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How do you rule out a bladder infection?

What are the symptoms of a bladder infection?

A bladder infection, also known as cystitis, causes uncomfortable urinary symptoms. The most common symptoms of a bladder infection include:

  • A strong, persistent urge to urinate
  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
  • Urine that appears cloudy, dark, or has a strong smell
  • Pelvic pain or pressure
  • Lower back pain

Women are more likely to get bladder infections than men due to their shorter urethras. However, men can also develop bladder infections. Symptoms in men may also include rectal pain and pain at the tip of the penis.

When should you see a doctor about bladder infection symptoms?

You should see a doctor if you experience any symptoms of a bladder infection. While symptoms can resolve on their own in mild cases, it’s important to get evaluated to determine if antibiotics are needed. Leaving a bladder infection untreated can allow it to worsen and spread to the kidneys.

See your doctor right away if you have symptoms of a bladder infection along with:

  • A fever above 101°F (38.3°C)
  • Chills and shaking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Back pain
  • Blood in your urine

These signs could indicate a kidney infection, which requires prompt antibiotic treatment. A simple urine test at your doctor’s office can confirm if you have an infection.

What causes bladder infections?

Most bladder infections are caused by E. coli bacteria from the bowel that enters the urinary tract. The urethra is very short in women, making it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder. Conditions that can increase the risk of developing a bladder infection include:

  • Having a new sexual partner
  • Using a diaphragm for birth control
  • Being pregnant
  • Going through menopause
  • Having blockage in the urinary tract
  • Having a urinary catheter
  • Having a weakened immune system

Poor bathroom hygiene can also contribute to bladder infections in women by bringing bacteria closer to the urethra.

How are bladder infections diagnosed?

To diagnose a bladder infection, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a urinalysis. This involves testing a sample of your urine for the presence of white blood cells, red blood cells, and bacteria.

A urinalysis is very accurate for diagnosing bladder infections. Your doctor may also do additional urine tests, such as a urine culture, which can identify the type of bacteria causing the infection.

Imaging tests like an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI scan of your urinary tract may be recommended if your doctor suspects complicated factors like kidney stones or abnormalities in your urinary tract anatomy.

Can a bladder infection resolve without antibiotics?

Mild bladder infections may resolve on their own without antibiotics. However, it’s still recommended to get evaluated by your doctor to determine if treatment is needed. Leaving a bladder infection untreated can increase your risk of a recurrent infection or a kidney infection.

Your doctor may consider not prescribing antibiotics if:

  • Your symptoms are very mild
  • You are healthy with no medical conditions
  • Your urinalysis shows only low levels of bacteria and white blood cells
  • You have no symptoms of a kidney infection like fever, back pain or nausea

Your doctor can provide a prescription for antibiotics to fill if your symptoms worsen or fail to improve within 1-2 days. Be sure to follow up with your doctor if your symptoms do not get better to reassess if antibiotics are needed.

What over-the-counter medications can help bladder infection symptoms?

Certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help provide symptom relief while you have a bladder infection:

  • Phenazopyridine (Pyridium, Uristat, AZO Urinary Pain Relief). This medication reduces pain, burning and urgency from a bladder infection. It turns urine an orange-red color.
  • Cystex, AZO Bladder Control, Azo Standard. These contain phenazopyridine along with an antibiotic. They provide both pain relief and antimicrobial activity.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol). This can help reduce bladder pain and discomfort.
  • Heating pads. Applying heat to your lower abdomen can help ease bladder pain and cramping.
  • Water or cranberry juice. Staying hydrated can help dilute urine and reduce irritation during a bladder infection.

Always follow dosage recommendations on any OTC medication. See your doctor if your symptoms do not improve within 1-2 days with self-treatment.

What prescription antibiotics treat bladder infections?

If your symptoms are more severe or you have a complicated health history, your doctor will likely prescribe oral antibiotics to treat your bladder infection. Some commonly used antibiotics include:

  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra)
  • Fosfomycin (Monurol)
  • Nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid)
  • Cephalexin (Keflex)
  • Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)

The choice of antibiotic depends on your health history, known drug allergies, and the expected type of bacteria causing your infection. Having diabetes, frequent infections, kidney stones, or impaired kidney function can impact the choice of antibiotic.

Your doctor may prescribe a 3-7 day course of antibiotics. Be sure to finish all the medication as directed, even if your symptoms resolve earlier. Stopping antibiotics too soon can lead to a recurrent infection.

How effective are antibiotics for treating bladder infections?

Most uncomplicated bladder infections can be effectively treated in 3 days with appropriate antibiotics. You should notice some symptom improvement within the first 1-2 days of starting antibiotics. However, it can take up to 7 days for symptoms to fully resolve.

Drinking plenty of water and urinating frequently can help flush bacteria out while on antibiotics. Your doctor may have you return for a follow up urinalysis after treatment to ensure the infection has cleared.

Let your doctor know if your symptoms do not improve within two days of antibiotics, or if they worsen, as a different antibiotic may be needed. Recurrent infections may require longer antibiotic treatment.

Are there any home remedies to treat bladder infections?

Certain at-home remedies may help provide symptom relief during a bladder infection. However, home remedies should not take the place of medical treatment. Some potentially helpful home remedies include:

  • Drink cranberry juice or take cranberry supplements. Cranberries contain substances that may prevent bacteria from adhering in the urinary tract.
  • Take probiotics. Probiotic supplements can help restore healthy bacteria to the urinary tract and vagina to fight infection.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated dilutes urine and allows for frequent urination, helping flush out bacteria.
  • Apply a heating pad. Heat can help ease pelvic pain and bladder muscle spasms.
  • Wear cotton underwear. Cotton underwear keeps the area dry and free of harmful bacteria.
  • Urinate after intercourse. This flushes bacteria away before it can spread up the urethra and cause an infection.
  • Wipe front-to-back. This pattern after using the bathroom prevents spreading bacteria from the anus to the urethra.

While these remedies may be soothing, always see your doctor to determine if antibiotics are required for proper treatment. Using home remedies alone could allow the infection to worsen.

What foods and drinks help soothe a bladder infection?

Certain dietary choices can help relieve bladder infection symptoms:

  • Water – Staying hydrated dilutes urine and reduces irritation and burning during urination.
  • Cranberry juice – Unsweetened cranberry juice makes urine more acidic, which discourages bacterial growth.
  • Blueberries – Blueberries have antioxidants that may prevent bacteria from attaching to the bladder wall.
  • Greek yogurt – The probiotics in yogurt can promote the growth of good bacteria to fight off infection.
  • Pineapple – Pineapple is high in the enzyme bromelain, which acts as an anti-inflammatory to relieve pelvic pain.
  • Bananas – Bananas help replenish potassium lost during frequent urination.
  • Chicken soup – The sodium content helps replace electrolytes lost during increased urination.
  • Chamomile tea – The antioxidants in chamomile tea reduce bladder inflammation and soothe irritation.

Avoid foods that can irritate the bladder, like coffee, alcohol, citrus, and spicy foods. Be sure to avoid sugar, as bacteria feeds on glucose in urine. Following a bladder infection diet can promote healing.

Can you prevent recurrent bladder infections?

If you get more than 2-3 bladder infections per year, this is considered recurrent cystitis. There are several approaches that can help prevent recurrent bladder infections:

  • Take antibiotics preventively – Your doctor may have you take a low dose antibiotic daily or after sexual activity to prevent infection.
  • Urinate after sex – Emptying the bladder after sex flushes away bacteria that may have entered the urethra.
  • Avoid spermicide – Spermicide-coated condoms and spermicidal jellies can irritate the urethra and promote infection.
  • Wear cotton underwear – Cotton minimizes moisture and encourages airflow to discourage bacteria growth.
  • Drink cranberry juice – Cranberry juice creates an acidic urine environment that prevents bacterial adhesion in the bladder.
  • Take probiotics – Probiotics promote healthy vaginal and urinary tract flora to fight off infection-causing bacteria.

See your doctor if you have frequent bladder infections for evaluation. You may need additional testing or treatment to identify any underlying causes contributing to recurrent cystitis.

When should you go to the emergency room for a bladder infection?

Most bladder infections can be treated with oral antibiotics and home care. However, some severe symptoms warrant an immediate trip to the emergency room, including:

  • High fever over 102°F (38.9°C)
  • Chills, shaking, and dehydration
  • Inability to keep liquids down due to vomiting/nausea
  • Signs of confusion, delirium, or excessive drowsiness
  • Back pain or abdominal pain that worsens despite treatment
  • Inability to urinate or very little urine output

These symptoms can indicate a kidney infection or sepsis, a dangerous systemic infection spreading through the body. A kidney infection requires IV antibiotics and fluid replacement. Seek emergency care if you have any concerning bladder infection symptoms along with a fever. Call 911 if you have sudden loss of consciousness.

Can men get bladder infections?

While less common than in women, men can develop bladder infections too. Bacteria can enter the male urinary tract through the urethra and multiply within the bladder. Symptoms are similar to bladder infections in women and may include:

  • Burning with urination
  • Urgency and frequency
  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Pelvic and rectal pain
  • Pain at the penis tip

Men over age 50 have an increased risk due to enlarged prostate issues. Bladder infections in men are more likely to be complicated. Seek prompt medical treatment for evaluation and antibiotics.

Why are bladder infections less common in men?

A few key anatomical differences make bladder infections less common in men than women:

  • The female urethra is much shorter, making it easier for bacteria to enter.
  • The male prostate produces substances that inhibit bacterial growth.
  • The female urethral opening is near sources of bacteria like the vagina and anus.
  • Sexual intercourse is a more common source of introducing bacteria in women due to female anatomy.
  • Estrogen levels in women influence bladder bacteria and create a favorable environment for infection.

However, men with enlarged prostates, urinary catheters, kidney stones or diabetes are at increased risk for developing cystitis.

What complications can result from an untreated bladder infection?

It’s critical to receive prompt treatment for a bladder infection to avoid dangerous complications, including:

  • Kidney infection (pyelonephritis) – Bacteria can migrate up to infect one or both kidneys, causing fever, back pain, and nausea.
  • Sepsis – An untreated UTI can enter the bloodstream and cause a life-threatening systemic infection known as sepsis or septicemia.
  • Permanent kidney damage – Recurrent kidney infections from untreated bladder infections can cause permanent kidney scarring and impaired function.
  • Preterm birth – Bladder infections during pregnancy increase risk of early labor and low birth weight babies.
  • Infertility – Severe untreated infections may permanently damage the reproductive system.

These potential risks demonstrate the importance of seeking prompt medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics when bladder infection symptoms arise.

When to see a urologist for recurrent bladder infections

If you have frequent bladder infections, your doctor may refer you to a urologist, a physician who specializes in urinary tract conditions. A urologist can perform additional testing and provide specialized treatment approaches.

See a urologist for recurrent bladder infections if you have:

  • More than three infections yearly
  • Infections that do not respond well to antibiotics
  • Other urinary tract problems, like incontinence or kidney stones
  • Anatomic abnormalities of the urinary tract
  • Increased infection risk related to catheters or neurological conditions
  • Suspected underlying causes like diabetes, kidney disease or enlarged prostate

A urologist has specialized expertise in treating frequent bladder infections and identifying contributing factors. They may recommend additional testing, long-term preventive antibiotics, bladder training, or surgery in complicated cases.


Bladder infections cause uncomfortable urinary symptoms that require medical evaluation. See your doctor for urinalysis testing if you have burning urination, pelvic pain, or other symptoms of cystitis. While some mild cases may resolve without antibiotics, treatment is often needed to clear infection and prevent complications. Drink plenty of fluids, use pain-relieving medications, and avoid bladder irritants until your infection improves. Seek prompt medical care if your symptoms are severe or persist beyond a few days. Addressing recurrent bladder infections with your doctor and urologist can help prevent future episodes.