Cystitis (Bladder Infection) and Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

What is it?

Cystitis or bladder infection (also known as simple urinary tract infection), results when bacteria gain access to the bladder (a sack-like organ in the pelvis that collects urine from the kidneys). Normally, the bladder doesn't contain bacteria and the urine inside you is usually sterile. But bacteria typically present in the vagina and genital areas can get into the bladder by way of the urethra, a small tube that connects your bladder to the outside of your body.

In women, the urethra is very short and has its opening near the vagina. Because of these two factors, bladder infections are common in women. Men seldom develop cystis.

What are the symptoms?

  • frequent urination, usually in small amounts
  • uncontrolled dribbling of urine
  • urgency to urinate
  • pain or burning on urination
  • pressure or cramps in the lower body on urination
  • bad-smelling or cloudy urine
  • blood in the urine, or darkened urine
  • painful intercourse
  • fatigue
  • fever, and sometimes sweats or chills
  • pain in the mid-back (to either side of the spine)

What are the risks?

A simple UTI or bladder infection isn't dangerous if treated promptly. If left untreated, however, the bacteria can migrate up your urinary tract to the kidney and produce a serious, life-threatening infection. Pain or tenderness in the lower back, fever, chills, nausea or vomiting, and a general feeling of being sick suggest a kidney infection. If you've had more than 3 UTIs in one year, you may have a problem that requires further examination by a specialist.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Cystitis is confirmed by a urine test. Sometimes a urine culture will be done to identify the type of bacteria involved. You may also have physical exam with special attention to your lower abdomen, a genital/pelvic exam, and tests for sexually transmitted infections. Treatment involves one or more antibiotics. Remember to tell your doctor if you are pregnant or have allergies or other medical conditions that might interfere with antibiotics.

How do I take my medication?

  1. Be sure you understand clearly how to take any medication prescribed.

  2. Finish it completely, even if you feel better before it is all gone.

  3. Call your doctor if you:

    • have blood in your urine after taking your medication for 3 days
    • don't feel better after 3 days of taking your medication
    • feel worse at any time
    • develop back pain, fever, or chills—further testing may be necessary to determine a better treatment
    • think you may be allergic to your medication

How can I avoid UTIs in the future?

  • Drink fluids to keep your urinary system flushed—at least 8 glasses of water a day
  • Urinate as soon as you need to—don't hold it
  • Take time to strain and empty your bladder
  • Urinate before and after intercourse
  • Wipe from front to back after urination or a bowel movement. Avoid touching or putting objects in your vagina after they've been in or around your anus or rectum
  • If you use a diaphragm and have frequent bladder infections, the problem may be the spermicide you use with the diaphragm. Talk to your clinician for recommendations. The problem may also be the fit—have it rechecked for proper fit
  • Avoid foods and drinks that might irritate your bladder: coffee, tea, carbonated drinks, tomato juice, alcohol, apple juice, and chocolate.

What if I have sex and don’t use Birth Control?

Did you know that …for up to 120 hours (5 days) … after sex, you can take emergency pills to avoid becoming pregnant? (The sooner they are taken after an episode of unprotected intercourse the more effective they are)…AND for 7 days…after sex, you can have an IUD put in, so you won’t become pregnant. Not all doctors know about this. IF you need to know more or would like the phone numbers of doctors or clinics near you that have emergency birth control, call the Facts of Life line
1-800-739-7367 or 604-731-7803 in the lower mainland.

Revised March 2009