Bladder Infections: Everything You Need to Know

Bladder infections are surprisingly common, but many people don’t understand what causes them to occur, or why they are so discomforting.

The first thing to know is that a bladder infection is a specific type of UTI, or urinary tract infection. In this case, the infection specifically affects the bladder. This sets it apart from other types of UTI, which can affect any of the organs in the urinary system.

Bladder infections can affect anyone but are a little more common in women as well as people with a weakened immune system. Bladder infections can appear sporadically without much warning, but recurrent and chronic bladder infections can also happen, affecting people over a longer period.

Key to minimising the impact of bladder infection is recognising symptoms early and understanding the causes of bladder infections, so let’s take a look at them in a little more detail.

What Causes a Bladder Infection?

A bladder infection is a type of bacterial infection. The bacteria that cause this infection enter through the urethra and works their way up into the bladder. Usually, these bacteria are flushed away by the body during urination, but sometimes the bacteria can manage to establish themselves in the bladder, and multiply.

This makes it more difficult for the body to flush the infection away and is what causes a bladder infection to take hold.

The most common type of bacteria to cause a bladder infection is E. coli, which is commonly found in the human bowels, and can find its way into the urethra due to the proximity of the urethra to the anus.

This explains why bladder infections in women are more common, as the female urethra is short and closer to the anus than in men, making it easier for bacteria to find its way into the urethra. There are additional factors that can contribute to bladder infections also, such as age and other health issues.

What are the Symptoms of a Bladder Infection?

The symptoms of a bladder infection can vary a lot depending on how severe the infection has become. Often, the first noticeable signs of bladder infections are changes in urination, however there are many other symptoms, including:

  • Burning or pain while urinating
  • Urinating more than usual 
  • Strong smelling urine 
  • Feeling the need to urinate more often
  • Cloudy or even bloody urine
  • Pain in the lower back or abdomen, below the belly button
  • A feeling of pressure in the lower back or abdomen

Bladder infection pain and symptoms can become quite debilitating, especially when a bladder infection occurs during pregnancy or in an older adult.

Bladder infections can also spread to the kidneys if not effectively treated or left untreated. Pain in the back signifies the potential development of a kidney infection, and requires an urgent appointment with your GP.

Who is at Risk of a Bladder Infection?

Bladder infections can affect anyone at any time, but there are some people who are at a higher risk than others.

Bladder Infections in Women

As with other types of UTIs in women, women are typically far more likely to get a bladder infection than men. This has to do with the fact that the female urethra is much shorter than in men, giving bacteria a shorter path to get to the bladder. Women’s urethras are also closer to the anus, where the bacteria that cause bladder infections can be found.

Bladder infections during pregnancy are also more common due to changes to the immune system, hormones and urinary tract, all of which contribute to a higher risk of infection.

Recurrent and chronic bladder infections are also more likely in women than men.

Bladder Infection in Men

In younger men, bladder infections are very uncommon. However, as men age, UTIs including bladder infections become more common due to changes in men’s hormones and body. 

A common cause is an enlarged prostate, as this reduces the flow of urine. Urine that is not passed following voiding may result in a UTI, including bladder infection.

Men who are uncircumcised, as well as men who engage in unprotected anal sex are also at a higher risk, as the bacteria that causes a bladder infection has a higher chance of entering the urethra.

Additional Risks

There are several other things that can increase your chances of getting a bladder infection in both men and women, including:

How is a Bladder Infection Diagnosed?

Bladder infections are diagnosed by doctors using a test known as urinalysis. This is a test which examines a urine sample for things like red blood cells, white blood cells or bacteria. Doctors can also use a urine culture to determine what specific type of bacteria is causing the infection, which can help diagnose a more effective antibiotic for treatment. Unfortunately, these tests do not perform well at detecting chronic bladder infection, even if you’re exhibiting symptoms of an infection.

How to Treat Bladder Infections

Bladder infections are usually treated with antibiotics, which will help kill the bacteria. With antibiotics the average person should be able to clear the infection in just a couple of days. 

For those experiencing bladder infection pain, doctors may provide a medication known as phenazopyridine (Pyridium) which can help with this.

Other home treatments that can be helpful include:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • During or after the menopause, oestrogen cream can help good bacteria in the vagina protect against infection.

How to Prevent a Bladder Infection

Bladder infections can be painful and upsetting. There are lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your chances of getting one.

Some doctors may prescribe a prophylactic treatment, which involves taking a small dose of daily antibiotics to help keep infection at bay.

There are other options also, including:

  • Drinking more water
  • Showering instead of bathing 
  • Urinating before and after sex
  • Wiping from front to back if female
  • Urinating as soon as the urge occurs
  • Wearing comfortable fitting cotton underwear 


While unpleasant, bladder infections can be treated and will often subside within 48 hours of starting a course of antibiotics. Using the tips above to help protect yourself and being proactive in your prevention is a great way to prevent a bladder infection.

To find out more about the health of your urinary tract as well as dealing with incontinence and its impacts, check out our articles section for even more advice.