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Bladder Infections

bladder and kidney

What are bladder infections?
A bladder infection (sometimes called cystitis) is very common, particularly among women, whose urinary anatomy makes them much more susceptible than men to these problems. Normally, the bladder is free of bacteria and other organisms that can cause infections. When an organism invades the bladder, it enters through the lower end of the urinary tract or via the bloodstream. Untreated bladder infections can lead to more serious infections of the kidney (plylonephritis) that can be permanently damaging. This is particularly true among young children and seniors, because their symptoms may be mistaken for other disorders. Women who develop bladder infections during pregnancy may be at increased risk of delivering premature or low birth weight babies.

What are the symptoms of bladder infections?
The infections are marked by a frequent, urgent need to urinate, or a painful or burning sensation when urinating. The urine is typically cloudy.

What are the causes of bladder infections?
The bacterium Escherichia coli (E. Coli) is responsible for most bladder infections. Although harmless where it normally resides in the small intestine, E. Coli becomes a problem when it spreads to the urinary tract. After menopause, women are at substantially increased risk for bladder infections. This may be due to a decrease in estrogen, which may result in a reduction of the number of beneficial bacteria in the vagina that help keep harmful bacteria in check. The bladder also tends to become less elastic with age and may not empty completely. Other risks include frequent or traumatic sexual intercourse, pregnancy (up to 10 percent of pregnant women tend to have bacteria in their urine, which increases their risk for bladder infections); antibiotics, which can eliminate the good bacteria and cause an overgrowth of E. Coli in the vagina, increasing the risk of bladder infections. Drinking large amounts of coffee and other caffeinated beverages, as well as alcohol addiction and dehydration, promote bladder infections by irritating the urinary tract.

What is the conventional treatment of bladder infections?
These infections always require treatment with antibiotics. The specific drug you'll need depends on the type of bacteria found in a culture of your urine and on your general health. You're most likely to get amoxicillin, nitrofurantoin, trimethoprim or a combination of trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole. Be sure to take the entire course of antibiotics prescribed even if your symptoms clear up quickly. An uncomplicated bladder infection may require only three days of treatment, while recurrent infections may need a longer course. Alternatively, your physician may recommend taking the drugs for a few days on your own whenever symptoms return. If an infection is related to sexual activity, you may be instructed to take an antibiotic after sexual intercourse.

What therapies does Dr. Weil recommend for bladder infections?
While antibiotic treatment is necessary, the following measures can help prevent and treat bladder infections:

  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting pants. Also, wear cotton-crotch underwear and pantyhose.
  • Use mild detergents when washing undergarments.
  • Don't hold your urine. Be sure to urinate frequently and when you have the urge.
  • Drink the right fluids. Increase your intake of fluids so that you urinate more frequently. Lots of plain water is best. It is also important to avoid alcohol and coffee.
  • Good hygiene before and after sex. Keep the genital and anal areas clean, and urinate before and after intercourse to cleanse the urethra of bacteria. Always wipe front to back after a bowel movement.
  • Try an estrogen vaginal cream. This may be best for post-menopausal women, who have lower levels of estrogen.
  • Drink unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate diluted with water. As an alternative, take powdered cranberry extract in capsules. Cranberries contain a tannin that helps prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls.
  • Avoid feminine hygiene sprays, powders or douches. These can irritate the urethra, the tube through which urine leaves the body.

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