Acute cystitis is the medical term for a bladder infection, and is the most common cause of what is generally known as a urinary tract infection. It affects up to 10 million Americans a year, mostly women. About 40% of women at some time during their lifetime will have a bladder infection, and many will have multiple episodes.

Risk factors include:

• Female gender: This is the most common risk factor because the female urethra (the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body) is very short allowing germs an easier entrance to the bladder.

• Sexual activity

• Use of a diaphragm

• Personal hygiene

Symptoms:

• a burning sensation when urinating

• frequent urination often of small amounts

• a very strong urge to urinate.

• blood in the urine (Scary, but not necessarily serious.)

• strong odor or cloudy urine

If you experience any of the above symptoms regardless of your gender, see your doctor. If you do have an infection, you will prescribed an appropriate antibiotic

The most common germ identified is the E. coli germ which is found in the human intestine. There are at least a half a dozen different antibiotics which can be used to treat bladder infections. Fortunately, in most cases of acute cystitis only three days of treatment are necessary. You may also be prescribed a medication called phenazopyridine which quickly improves the discomfort of a bladder infection. This is helpful before the antibiotic “kicks in.” This drug, under the name of Uristat, can now be purchased over the counter and can be useful to begin treating your symptoms before you get to see the doctor. Be aware that it will turn your urine a dark orange color.

Many people have the perception that drinking cranberry juice will help to cure a bladder infection. Cranberry juice does not help treat an active infection, it only helps prevent infections in those who get them frequently. Those who rely on cranberry juice to treat an infection are only delaying the proper treatment with an antibiotic. If a bladder infection goes untreated it may worsen and even spread to the kidneys, causing a more serious kidney infection.

Preventing bladder infections:

• Drink enough liquids to flush the bacteria out of the bladder. (Drink more than you feel you really need to.)

• Avoid a full bladder and empty the bladder whenever the urge is present.

• Practice good hygiene. “Wipe from front to back.” And wash the skin around the genital area daily.

• Change sanitary pads and tampons frequently.

• Avoid bubble baths which can irritate the urethra and mimic an infection.

Fortunately, bladder infections are not usually serious if recognized and treated in time. See your doctor if you think you have a bladder infection.

Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is a retired urgent care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. He can be reached at valleydoctor@gmail.com.

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