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Bladder infections are usually treated with antibiotics, but a new understanding of how bladder infections keep from being washed away in the flow of urine may soon lead to new treatments.

If you have ever had a bladder infection, you know just how unpleasant it can be. And up to 50 percent of women and 25 percent of men will eventually develop a urinary tract infection, most commonly after the age of 60.

The first sign of a UTI (urinary tract infection or acute cystitis, more commonly called a bladder infection) may be something odd but innocuous like white foamy bubbles in the urine. You can feel the need to "go" without being able to urinate, or you might need to go all the time. There can be abdominal pain, blood in the urine (hematuria), and dysuria, stinging, burning, and pain with urination. Fever and bladder spasms can follow.

Most of the time the organism causing a bladder infection is E. coli. This is the same bacterium that is so common in the bowel. Babies tend to get bladder infection because the bacteria travel in their diapers. When older girls and women wipe forward instead of backward after bowel movement, they may transfer E. coli to the urethral spincter, where it can travel up to the bladder and even into the kidneys. Men can get E. coli infections through anal intercourse or by simply failing to change their underwear. Fecal matter in underwear that touches the tip of the penis can cause an infection. Bladder infections can also be caused by other species of bacteria, viruses, yeasts, or Chlamydia. In men over 60, UTIs may follow infections of the prostate. Diabetes elevates the risk of repeated bouts of UTIs in both sexes.

Is There an Easy Way to Treat UTI Symptoms?

A sensible home remedy for bladder infections that has been used for generations is simply drinking more water. The more fluid you consume, the more you need to urinate, and the more likely, one would think, the infection is to be washed away with urine. If you have swelling of the lining of the urethra or spasms of the muscles around the bladder, not only will drinking more water not result in flushing out the infection, you can become painfully bloated. Cranberry juice works on a different principle; its proanthocyanidins are anti-bacterial, but not sufficiently potent to cure an infection, and sugar-sweetened cranberry juice can actually feed the bacteria it is designed to treat.

What About Antibiotics for UTI Symptoms?

In the modern world, UTIs are almost always treated with antibiotics. Either a single infusion of an IV antibiotic (for a severe case) or five days of oral antibiotics is usually enough to bring the infection to bay, at least the first time the antibiotics are used. The first time someone gets antibiotics for a bladder infection, they might get relief after taking antibiotics for five days. The second time, they might need to take antibiotics for seven days. A few months later the UTI might have returned, and require 10 days of antibiotics. 

Urinary tract infections tend come back over and over again, and the antibiotics used to treat them tend to become less and less effective. Infections cause inflammation, and inflammation gives bacteria new opportunities to start the infection all over again. The new bacteria have had opportunities to develop resistance to the antibiotics used to treat the first, second, third, or fourth rounds of the infection, and they aren't simply washed away. But a Danish scientist has learned something about the most common UTI bacteria that may make them a lot easier to beat.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Khandige S, Asferg CA, Rasmussen KJ, Larsen MJ, Overgaard M, Andersen TE, Møller-Jensen J. DamX Controls Reversible Cell Morphology Switching in Uropathogenic Escherichia coli. MBio. 2016 Aug 2. 7(4). pii: httpe00642-16. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00642-16. PMID: 27486187.
  • Meares EM, Stamey TA. Bacteriologic localization patterns in bacterial prostatitis and urethritis. Invest Urol. 1968 Mar. 5(5):492-518.
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