Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Med Beat: The Curse of the Bladder Infection

(For Women)

Kurtis Morrish

You wake up in the morning, exhausted from a long week (and possibly long night), muscle by muscle you gather the strength to roll out of bed and zombie-walk to the bathroom. As you relieve your pressingly anxious bladder, you notice it immediately: sharp, painful burning. If you weren’t quite awake yet, you are now.

The stinging pain that is now ruining your trip to the bathroom (and the rest of your day) could be the first sign of many possible complications that have sprung up overnight. For women, it is quite likely that the cause of this pain is a bladder infection. We’ll talk more about what this means, how to avoid them, deal with them, and understand them, but it is important to remember that a bladder infection (aka cystitis) is not the only thing that could be causing this morning discomfort, so listen up!

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) is an umbrella term that designates a bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection in any section of the urinary tract. For those of you who aren’t avidly up on your anatomy, it's OK, the Urinary Tract is made up of the kidneys, the ureters (which connect kidneys to bladder), the bladder, and the urethra (the tube that connects the bladder to the outside world). As its name states, a “bladder infection” refers specifically to an infection in the bladder, and is therefore a specific type of UTI.

To have a bladder infection means that something foreign has lodged inside your bladder, and as gross as it may seem, whatever it is has now started to grow and proliferate inside of you. The most notorious of the bacterial strains to lead to an infection in the bladder is E. coli, which you’ve probably all heard of before. This bacteria is infamously common, in fact, it is inside all of us right now, just hopefully not inside your bladder. E. coli inhabit the gut, living along the intestines right out to the colon.

It shouldn’t take too much imagination to figure out how a few bacterial cells could get into your bladder, but for obvious anatomical reasons. Keeping this train of thought, you could also imagine that bladder infections are common in women (over 50% of women have experienced at least one bladder infection in their life), while quite rare in men (the details of this boil down to women having an extremely short urethra compared to men, thus access to the bladder from the outside environment is shorter and easier for bacteria to navigate).

Most bladder infections occur in response to vaginal intercourse, particularly if you are using a diaphragm or condoms as your method of birth control (these devices provide a place for bacteria to either hitch a ride, or grab hold to cause problems for you later). Bladder infections are also common amongst pregnant women.

It is important to mention that bladder infections are NOT considered STD's or STI's and that they are NOT contagious. However, sex is not advised while the bladder is infected as it is just another way to introduce more foreign particles into the urinary tract. Also, as some of us know, sex can be a little abrasive sometimes, and therefore does not help your body's recovery and fight against the infection.

Important for the sexually-active: As mentioned before, the most common treatment for slightly more serious bladder infections is an antibiotic therapy that will counter the birth control effects of the pill and possibly leave you birth-controless for the duration of your antibiotic treatment as well as some time afterwards. Be sure to bring this up with
your doctor if you are on the pill and are prescribed to take any antibiotics!

So how do you know if you’ve got a bladder infection?

The first and most obvious sign will likely be that painful burning sensation that accompanies your trip to the bathroom. You may also notice an increased frequency in urges to urinate throughout the day (and an inability to expel urine when you do finally go to the bathroom), and also potentially notice your urine smells a little stronger and maybe fouler than it usually does. If you have never noticed the smell before and all of the sudden notice a recurring strong smell every time you urinate, this might be a sign that you have a bladder infection. It's always good to pay attention to your body to notice signs like this.

Before you run out to see your doctor at the slightest pain during urination, don’t freak out! As I said before, bladder infections are common, and many clear out on their own because your body is equipped to deal with such invasions. It is quite possible that you have already experienced one or many bladder infections without even noticing them. If the burning sensation continues beyond 24 hours, then you should have a urine test done by your doctor. This is the quickest and most reliable way to confirm what exactly is going on in your urinary tract, and will get you on the path to recovery from whatever it is that might be attacking you.

It is very important not to take bladder infections lightly. Although not seemingly a life-threatening affliction, they actually can be. If the infection grows enough to spread into other sections of the urinary tract, it may eventually reach the kidneys, which in turn could lead to life-threatening complications. So don’t mess around! Go see your doctor!

What do I do if I have a bladder infection?

If you think you have a bladder infection (either by self-diagnosis, or diagnosis by your doctor or nurse), drink lots of fluids! Flush it out! Like I said, your body can clear many infections out on its own, just give it a little extra help. Pure, unaltered cranberry juice, as many of you have likely heard, does help clear bacteria out of your urinary tract, but has been found to be much more effective for preventing bladder infections rather than treating them (nevertheless it can’t hurt to keep drinking cranberry juice even after you’ve contracted an infection... it's tasty anyway).

If you are generally healthy, and do not have any medical history or other complications that might cause you to be extra concerned about the burning you feel every time you go pee, then give your body a chance to rid itself of the infection (but no more than 24 hours). If thing get worse, i.e.

-       the infection remains beyond 24 hours
-       the pain with urination increases consistently
-       your urine appears thick or murky instead of relatively clear
-       you see blood or pinkness in your urine
-       you experience vomiting, fever, chills, abdominal, or back pain

Then see your doctor ASAP!

Any of the above could be signs that there is something serious happening in your urinary tract and should be given immediate attention by a trained health professional. The most likely treatment for a serious bladder infection is antibiotics. If this is what your doctor prescribes, then make sure you listen carefully to their directions, take each dose when you are supposed to, and follow-through with the prescription until it is finished. Failure to do so may result in a much more serious or frequent bladder infection! And, if you don't take your antibiotics correctly to the T, this could lead to a resistant strain of bacteria, much more difficult to treat (and the treatment will be much more invasive and with more side-effects). 

So how do I avoid getting a bladder infection in the first place?


This is not to say that people who get bladder infections are not clean or are practicing improper personal hygiene regularly. Some people are just more prone to infection than others-- it's luck of the draw from the genetics bag. So, one good way to prevent them is to keep yourself as clean as possible.

Keep clean, stay hydrated, and always empty your bladder completely when you have to go. It may not seem obvious, but wiping from front to back following urination is also a great way to reduce your risk of infection. Probiotic yogurt is another way to keep a healthy biome working for you and keeping you healthy. As I touched on earlier, it is common to use cranberry juice (or tea), or cranberry extract as a dietary supplement for preventing urinary tract infections. Just remember that if you choose to drink cranberry juice for this purpose, make sure you drink pure, unaltered cranberry juice, NOT ‘cranberry cocktail’ or some artificially-flavored cranberry drink even though it's tempting. 

Ideally, you should wash out your vagina immediately following intercourse, but we all know this isn’t always possible or convenient. Even just slipping away to the bathroom to pee quickly after sex is enough to drastically reduce your risk of a bladder infection (as well as getting rid of other foreign bodies you don’t want hanging around in there). Your health should come before the potential embarrassment of having a sexual partner hear you go pee. If you can have sex with the person, they should be able to hear you go pee!

Unfortunately, for some of us, bladder infections are quite common, regardless of what we do to prevent them. Everyone is different, and everyone’s body responds to foreign invaders differently. Some of us may never experience a bladder infection, while others may get them very regularly. If you find yourself contracting bladder infections regularly (or at least more frequently than you would ever want), then talk to your doctor. There may be other forces at play that are putting you at an increased risk, but that may be treatable. Whatever you do, DO NOT feel like you are weird, unhealthy, or even dirty. Bladder infections are manageable, treatable, and common (some people suffer from what’s called “honeymoon cystitis” in which they contract an infection after every time they have sex), and therefore can be helped, just make sure you see your doctor and explain every detail of your experience with these infections.

But wait! There’s more...

There are many other ways your urinary tract could become infected; bacteria (such as E. coli) are simply the most common ones to go for the bladder, but fungal and parasitic infections do also occur.

A fungal infection most commonly attacks the vagina, causing what most people refer to as a yeast infection. Yeast infections are recognized by the same symptoms of a bladder infection, but with an added bonus: a white semi-solid discharge that oddly resembles cottage cheese. Now most of us went through Sex-Ed a few years ago, so I’ll spare you the repetition, but yeast infections are quite treatable (and doctors have yet to prove whether or not it's contagious, though the look and smell of a yeast infection may not be the most, shall we say, enticing element of foreplay leading up to intercourse... I mean, come on), and should be seen by your doctor and treated as soon as you realize you might have one.

Parasitic urinary tract infections are quite serious, but are also easily recognized by a urine test and possibly a physical exam. They are treatable, and although occasionally more difficult to get rid of than a bacterial or fungal infection, they are much rarer to encounter.

Last thoughts:

Bladder infections can be extremely painful, so prevention, like many medical complications, is the best option! They can also become something very serious; so don’t hesitate to seek professional advice. Even if you have only very mild pain, or none at all, but suspect a bladder infection, do not wait more than a day or two before getting a urine test done AND REVIEWING YOUR RESULTS WITH AN EXPERT in order to determine exactly what is happening in your body.

Remember: your body is your responsibility. It does wonderful things for you every day, so take care of it and stay healthy!

For more information on bladder infections:http://www.medicinenet.com/bladder_infection/article.htm

For more information on UTIs:

Brief welcome to Kurtis Morrish from Unleashed:

After a great run with Dr. Martin, the torch has been passed to Kurtis Morrish, and Unleashed is so excited to have him. Kurtis' open-minded curiosity for life, bubbling intelligence, and dedication to the well being of his peers lends a wonderful resource for all readers. Detected in a coffee shop just off the campus of UC Berkeley, his sparkle for life and compassion did not go unnoticed. We are so lucky to have his input on the medical matters we face today. Let's give a warm welcome to Kurtis as he joins the Unleashed staff. Applause for Mr. Morrish!

Medical Section Columnist, Kurtis Morrish:

My name is Kurtis Morrish. I graduated from Cal last year as an Integrative Biology major. I am now in the process of applying to medical school in the hopes of one day serving people as a family doctor. By no means do I write to you as an M.D., but I have extensive experience doing all kinds of scientific research; boiling-down long, dry, mumbo-jumbo-dense medical journals into a reduction that is a little sweeter, useful, and hopefully informative for you. I hope to learn as much from my writing as you do, so please hit me up with further questions, concerns, or comments!


williamsmarkseo said...

I'm 25 years old and I have been diagnosed with bladder infections (burning and stinging when urinating - symptoms). doctor prescribe me Amoxil, useful to treat bladder infections.

Unleashed Magazine News Central said...

Thanks for your contribution! Keep up with the Med Beat, every Saturday for more relevant health information.

Nancy Voss said...

Hello! A person dear to me also have similar problems and I scour the net during my free time for anything that I may also learn from other's insights like yours and Nancy's Bladder Sling Recall Blog . I wish you all the best and thanks again.

Bladder infection symptoms said...

Some women don't get the burning but they get a constant feeling of fullness and tenderness in the lower abdomen. Quite uncomfortable.