After your third trip to the bathroom in 20 minutes, you might start wondering what is going on in your urinary tract. Your urinary tract consists of your the kidneys, ureters (long, slender tubes connecting the kidneys with the bladder), bladder and urethra, and can become infected when bacteria reach any part of it. Because any part of your urinary tract can become infected, it’s important to know where your infection is in order to properly treat and heal it.
So what's the difference between UTI and bladder infection?
UTIs are the second most common infection in the US. A urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria enter the urethra, travel up the urinary tract, and multiply. As the bacteria spread, your urinary tract becomes inflamed and infected. 90% of the time, this bacteria is E. coli. E. coli normally lives without harm in our intestinal tract but becomes harmful once it enters the urinary tract.
A bladder infection is the most common type of UTI, but not all UTIs are bladder infections. Your urinary tract consists of your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. A bladder infection occurs when the bacteria that caused a UTI reaches the bladder. Like UTIs, bladder infections are most commonly caused by E. coli that enters the urethra and eventually the bladder. If you are someone who gets a lot of UTIs, your chances and frequency of getting a bladder infection are higher.
If you suspect you have any type of infection, contact your primary care provider for testing and treatment.
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Signs of bladder infection
Bladder infections are caused by the bacteria from a UTI making its way to your bladder. Bacteria enter through the urethra and travel up into your bladder, sticking to the lining of your bladder and causing inflammation. This bacteria can be a result of a number of things including improper wiping, not peeing before and after sex, and excessive moisture near your urethra.
Symptoms of a bladder infection are the same as UTI symptoms, but sometimes more severe. You’ll feel a strong and frequent urge to pee, a burning sensation when you urinate, and pressure in the lower abdomen. In more serious cases, there might be blood in your urine, pressure in your lower stomach, and a small fever.
If left untreated, a bladder infection can travel even further up the urinary tract to your kidneys. Kidney infections are the most severe type of UTI and can cause upper back pain, a high fever, and vomiting. These types of infections are very serious and can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you notice your bladder infection becoming more painful in your middle to upper back, see your primary care provider as you might have developed a kidney infection.
Bladder infection treatment
Depending on the severity of your bladder infection, your primary care provider may prescribe antibiotics. The most common antibiotics used to treat bladder infections are nitrofurantoin (Macrobid), Bactrim, and fosfomycin. Antibiotics can start healing your bladder infection and relieving your symptoms within hours of taking them, but you should always finish the full course as prescribed by your doctor.
In addition to antibiotics, tending to a bladder infection looks similar to tending to a UTI. Drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day can help flush the bacteria out of your bladder and urinary tract. Based on research from Harvard Health, urinating frequently helps heal bladder infections as holding in your pee gives the bacteria in your urine more time to spread.
If you’re trying to protect against bladder infections in the future, some research has shown that drinking 240-300 ml of cranberry juice daily can prevent 50% of bladder infection recurrences and reduce the number of bacteria in your urinary tract. Additionally, taking cranberry supplements with 36 mg of proanthocyanidins every day for two months significantly reduces the frequency of infection. Still more research and clinical trials are needed to confirm that these methods can prevent infection.
Urinary tract infection causes
Unfortunately, there are a number of factors that can cause a UTI. The most common cause of a UTI is improper wiping after going to the bathroom and sexual intercourse. It’s important to always wipe front to back to avoid spreading bacteria from the anus to the urethra. During sex, bacteria from either partner can be introduced to the other’s body and travel up the urethra into the bladder. Peeing right before and after sex helps eliminate bacteria in the urinary tract and reduces its spread.
With a UTI, you’ll notice a strong and frequent urge to urinate, a painful burning sensation when you do, and lower back or stomach pain. The symptoms are very similar to those of a bladder infection but should be less severe. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect you might have a UTI, make an appointment with your primary care provider.
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Urinary tract infection treatment
Like with bladder infections, your primary care provider may prescribe antibiotics to treat a UTI. Without antibiotics or treatment, it can take weeks for a UTI to fully heal or could develop into a more severe infection, like a bladder infection. With antibiotics, UTI symptoms should start dissipating after 24-48 hours. The most common antibiotics used to treat a UTI are Amoxicillin, Ciprofloxacin (Cipro), and Trimethoprim (Bactrim). These are antibiotics that need to be prescribed by your primary care provider and cannot be bought without a prescription.
In addition to treatment, there are proactive steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing a UTI. Probiotics are a natural method that may improve urinary tract health. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods and dairy products like yogurt, sauerkraut, and some cheeses. Probiotics work by producing hydrogen peroxide, a strong antibacterial, in the urine. You can also take probiotics as a supplement every day for the many health benefits such as better digestive health, a stronger immune system, and more friendly bacteria in your urinary tract.
Just like with a bladder infection, the most important thing you can do if you have a UTI is to contact your doctor for treatment. Be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and pee when you have to. Water and liquids (like cranberry juice) dilute the urine moving through your urinary tract and make it harder for unwanted bacteria to reach the cells that line urinary organs.