Grocery Coupons

Grocery Coupons

Members can print free savings coupons

Brain Health Center

Brain Health Center

Learn how to live smart and stay sharp

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

Members save on e-
readers and tablets

Caring for loved ones?

Caring for loved ones?

Find the resources you need

Bladder Infection Learning Center

  • Enlarge
  • Print
  • Recommend

Bladder Infection

What Is a Bladder Infection?

A bladder infection, also called cystitis, is a bacterial infection in the bladder. Some people call a bladder infection a urinary tract infection, or UTI, which refers to a bacterial infection anywhere in the urinary tract, such as the bladder, kidneys, ureters, or the urethra.

What Causes a Bladder Infection?

Bladder infections are caused by germs or bacteria that enter through the urethra and travel into the bladder. Normally, the body is able to remove the bacteria by clearing it out during urination. Sometimes, however, the bacteria attach to the walls of the bladder and multiply quickly, overwhelming the body’s ability to destroy them, resulting in a bladder infection.

Who Is at Risk for a Bladder Infection?

Anyone can get bladder infections, but females are more prone to getting them than men are. The reason is that females have shorter urethras, making the path to the bladder easier for bacteria to reach. Females’ urethras are also closer to the rectum than men’s urethras are, providing a shorter distance for bacteria to travel. Other factors than can increase the risk of bladder infections for both men and women include:

  • advanced age
  • immobility
  • surgery in the urinary tract
  • a urinary catheter
  • urinary obstructions (blockage in the bladder or urethra)
  • urinary tract abnormalities (caused by birth defects or injuries)
  • urinary retention (difficulty emptying the bladder)
  • narrowed urethra
  • enlarged prostate
  • bowel incontinence
  • pregnancy
  • diabetes

What Are the Symptoms of a Bladder Infection?

If you have a bladder infection, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • cloudy or bloody urine
  • foul-smelling urine
  • low fever (this is rare with a bladder infection, and may be a sign the infection has spread to the kidneys)
  • pain or burning when urinating
  • frequent sensation of having to urinate, even when the bladder is empty
  • cramping or pressure in the lower abdomen or lower back

How Is a Bladder Infection Diagnosed?

A doctor diagnoses a bladder infection by performing a urinalysis. A urinalysis is a test that is performed on a sample of urine to check for the presence of white blood cells, red blood cells, nitrites, bacteria, and other chemicals that are present in urine when there is a bladder infection. A doctor may also perform a urine culture (a test to determine the type of bacteria in the urine). Once the type of bacteria is known, testing the bacteria for antibiotic sensitivity is performed to determine what antibiotic will best treat the infection.

How Is a Bladder Infection Treated?

Bladder infections are treated with prescription medications to kill the bacteria and relieve pain and burning. Home treatments may also help relieve symptoms and cure the infection.


Prescription oral antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria that are causing the bladder infection. If you are experiencing pain and burning sensations, your doctor may also prescribe a medication to relieve those symptoms. The most common medication used to relieve the pain and burning associated with bladder infections is phenazopyridine hydrochloride (Pyridium).

Home Treatment

Drink plenty of fluids—water is best—to help flush the bacteria out of your bladder. Your doctor may recommend that you take over-the-counter ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or drink cranberry juice to increase the acid levels in your urine, which helps to kill the bacteria. Another benefit of cranberry juice is that it inhibits bacteria from adhering to the bladder walls, according to research published in The New England Journal of Medicine (Howell, 1998).

Long-Term Outlook

Most bladder infections go away after antibiotic treatment, with the symptoms generally disappearing within 24 to 48 hours. Some bladder infections spread to the kidneys due to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria or due to other health problems.

Can Bladder Infections Be Prevented?

Certain lifestyle changes may reduce your chances of getting a bladder infection. If you have been experiencing recurrent bladder infections, your doctor may recommend prophylactic treatment, antibiotics taken in small daily doses, to prevent or control future bladder infections.

Lifestyle Changes

Your doctor may recommend that you make one or more of the following lifestyle changes in order to help reduce or eliminate the occurrence of bladder infections:

  • drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids a day (consult with your doctor about the correct amount of fluid to drink if you have kidney failure)
  • drink cranberry juice everyday
  • urinate as soon as you feel the need
  • wipe from front to back after urinating if you are female
  • do not use douches, feminine hygiene sprays, or powders
  • take showers instead of baths
  • wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes
  • change your underwear daily
  • wear sanitary pads instead of tampons
  • stop using a diaphragm or spermicide and change to an alternate form of birth control
  • use nonspermicidal lubricated condoms instead of unlubricated or spermicidal lubricated condoms
  • urinate before and after sexual activity
  • talk to your doctor about using vaginal estrogen creams if you are a woman

Preventative Antibiotic Treatment

If you are a woman experiencing recurrent bladder infections, your doctor may give you a prescription for antibiotics to take daily to prevent infections, or to take when you feel symptoms of a bladder infection. He or she may also have you take a single dose of an antibiotic after sexual activity.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Rose Kivi and Matthew Solan
Published on Aug 07, 2012
Medically reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
Condition & Treatment Search
Symptom Search
Drug Search




Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Member Benefits Outback

Members save 15% on lunch and dinner every day at Outback Steakhouse.

Member Benefits AT&T Wireless Cell Phone

Members save 10% on monthly usage charges for qualified AT&T wireless plans.

Member Benefit Swipe Save Discount

Members can find current offers on select items from Family Dollar at myAFINITI.com/aarp.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points


African American, Asian Community Page

AARP In Your Corner

Visit Black Community, Español  and Asian Community pages.

AARP Drivers Safety logo

Driver Safety Program

Register at a location near you to keep your driving skills sharp. 

Create the Good

Create The Good 

Find opportunities to volunteer in your neighborhood. 

AARP Drive to End Hunger Logo

Drive to End Hunger

NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon teams up with AARP Foundation.