Bladder infections and how to diagnose them

Bladder infections or urinary tract infections are common infections which affect the lower urinary system (bladder and urethra). Bladder infections account for about 8 million health care visits per year. These infections are especially common during your reproductive years and even more common after menopause. 50% of women will experience at least 1 urinary tract infection in their lifetime and a small proportion of these women may experience frequent infections. In fact, it is not unusual to have about 2-3 infections per year. Therefore, it is very important to know the steps for diagnosing and managing your bladder infections. Risk factors for bladder infections are unique to each person, but includes aging, genetics, issues with bladder emptying, use of catheters, pregnancy, menopause, sexual intercourse and accidental bowel leakage.

The most common bacteria responsible for bladder infections is called E coli, which can be found in your digestive tract. These infections happen when bacteria from the vaginal and rectal area climb into the bladder through your urethral opening. The typical symptoms of a bladder infection include pain during urination, frequent urination, urgent need to urinate, lower pelvic pain, or blood in the urine.  Fever, chills and lower back pain are not typical symptoms of a bladder infection but are signs of a more severe problem like a kidney infection.

Confirming your diagnosis of a bladder infection

The first step in treatment of your bladder infection is to confirm the diagnosis. You should start by submitting a clean catch urine sample to your OBGYN, primary care doctor or nearest urgent care. After you submit a urine sample your doctor will obtain a preliminary result in about 5-10 minutes that tells us if you have an infection.  Your doctor will then prescribe antibiotics to treat your symptoms. The treatment course for a urinary tract infection ranges from 3-5 days and your symptoms should improve within 24 hours of treatment.

But that’s not all, the sample of urine that you provide gets sent to a lab to not only confirm the infection but to tell us what bacteria grew from your urine sample. If your symptoms fail to improve it may indicate that the first antibiotic was not effective at clearing the bacteria from your urine. This is where providing a urine sample is very critical, the urine culture tells us what antibiotic works best for your specific bacteria. The downside is that this information is only available 2-3 days after you’ve started taking your antibiotics. Urine cultures are usually unreliable in patients currently taking antibiotics, so it is important that you provide a urine sample to your doctor before taking your antibiotics.

Helpful tips to remember about bladder infections:

  1. First identify if you have common symptoms of a bladder infection like pain with urination, urinary urgency or changes to the frequency with which you urinate.
  2. Don’t forget to provide a sample of urine to your doctor before treating your symptoms.
  3. If your urine test is positive, then you should complete your treatment course of antibiotics.
  4. Remember to follow up on your urine culture to confirm you received the correct antibiotics.

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