What Is A Bladder Infection?

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Bladder infections, also called cystitis, are the most common type of urinary tract infection (UTI). A UTI refers to a group of infections that affect different parts of your urinary tract, including your urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. A bladder infection occurs when harmful bacteria (germs) get into the bladder. It causes a burning sensation during urination and/or frequent or intense urges to urinate, even if you only pass a little urine. 

UTIs are especially common among people assigned female at birth. At least 40 to 60% of people assigned female at birth experience an infection in their urinary tract in their lifetime. Most infections are in the bladder.

It’s important to seek treatment if you notice bladder infection symptoms. When left untreated, a bladder infection can travel upstream to one or both kidneys. Thankfully, bladder infections are often easy to treat with antibiotics.

Bladder Infection Symptoms 

Common bladder infection symptoms include:

  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Frequent or intense urges to urinate, even if your bladder is empty
  • Cloudy or bloody urine with a foul or strong odor
  • Pressure or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen

Additional symptoms suggest the infection has spread to your kidneys, which is more severe than a bladder infection. Symptoms of a kidney infection can include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Lower back pain or pain in the side of your back
  • Mental changes or confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Urine that is cloudy, dark, bloody, or unusually foul-smelling

Bladder Infection Symptoms in Children

Fever is the most common symptom of a bladder infection in children, but children often have fevers for many other reasons as well. Talk to their pediatrician if your child seems particularly lethargic, is vomiting, has a poor appetite, or is irritable for a prolonged period.

What Causes Bladder Infections? 

A bladder infection occurs when harmful bacteria gets into the bladder and multiplies, causing inflammation (swelling) and pain.

The bladder is part of the urinary tract, the body’s drainage system for removing urine. Urine flows from your kidneys, through the ureters (tubes connecting your kidneys and bladder) to your bladder. Normally, bacteria that enter your urinary tract—often bacteria that live in your small and large intestines—are flushed out when you urinate. But sometimes, your body can’t fight the bacteria, which causes it to travel and multiply.

Risk Factors

Four times as many females get UTIs as males due to differences in anatomy. Females have a shorter urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body) than males. This means bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to the bladder. In addition, the opening to the urethra is closer to the rectum (the portion of the large intestine closest to the anus) in females. Much of the bacteria that cause bladder infections come from the rectum.

You may also be more likely to get a bladder infection if you:

  • Are sexually active
  • Had a UTI in the past
  • Have a spinal cord injury or nerve damage around the bladder
  • Have a kidney stone or enlarged prostate that blocks urine flow
  • Have a health condition that affects your body’s natural defense (immune) system


Your healthcare provider will take your medical history and ask about any health conditions that increase the risk of a UTI. They may also perform diagnostic tests to rule out sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which can have similar symptoms.

Common diagnostic tests for bladder infections include: 

  • Urinalysis: This is a simple test where urine is tested for bacteria and white blood cells, which are signs of infection. 
  • Urine culture: If you have repeated UTIs or certain medical conditions, your urine can be tested to determine what bacteria is causing the infection. A urine culture provides a more extensive evaluation than a urinalysis.
  • Cystoscopy: This imaging test may be used if you have repeated bladder infections. It involves using a tube-like instrument (cystoscope) to look inside the urethra and bladder for any structural issues causing infection.
  • Urodynamic testing: These procedures may also be used for repeat bladder infections. There are several tests, but many check how well your bladder can hold and empty urine.


Treatments for bladder infections aim to destroy harmful bacteria and prevent it from growing. Typically, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics for this very purpose. Antibiotics are a type of medication that fights and kills bacteria. The type of antibiotic you’re prescribed depends on the type of bacteria causing your infection, along with any allergies you may have.

If your bladder infection is mild, your healthcare provider may ask you to take antibiotics for three to 14 days. However, people with repeated bladder infections may need to take a single dose of an antibiotic daily or after sexual intercourse.

Your symptoms may go away within 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment. However, feeling better doesn’t mean the infection is gone. If you stop treatment too soon, the bacteria continue growing, leading to another infection. So it’s essential to continue treatment for the duration your doctor recommends, even if you feel better.

How to Prevent Bladder Infections 

You may be able to prevent bladder infections by following certain lifestyle habits. These include:

  • Urinating when needed, so urine doesn’t sit in the bladder for long periods
  • Always wiping from front to back when you use the bathroom
  • Drinking six to eight glasses of fluid daily
  • Avoiding feminine hygiene sprays and douching (washing or cleaning out the inside of the vagina)
  • Urinating before and after sex
  • Changing out of wet bathing suits and workout clothes right away


Complications from bladder infections are rare and usually do not occur if you seek prompt treatment and follow your treatment plan. However, it is possible for an untreated bladder infection to turn into a kidney infection (pyelonephritis), especially if it goes untreated for too long. Kidney infections can cause blood poisoning and permanent kidney damage.

Living With Bladder Infections  

Bladder infections are often resolved with antibiotics. In fact, your symptoms may go away within 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment. It’s recommended to drink a lot of fluids and urinate often to help heal more quickly when using antibiotics.

However, some people get repeat UTIs. If you get two UTIs in six months or three a year, your healthcare provider may do additional tests to determine why. If your test results are normal, they may recommend taking a single dose of an antibiotic daily to prevent future bladder infections. They may also prescribe antibiotics to take after sex or at the first sign of infection.

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11 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Urinary tract infections.

  2. MedlinePlus. Urinary tract infection - adults.

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Symptoms and causes of bladder infection in adults.

  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Definition and facts of bladder infection in adults.

  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Symptoms & causes of kidney infection (pyelonephritis).

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Urinary tract infection.

  7. National Cancer Institute (NCI). Urinary tract.

  8. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Diagnosis of bladder infection in adults.

  9. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Urodynamic testing.

  10. National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Urinary tract infections.

  11. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Treatment for bladder infection in adults.

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