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woman with bladder infection drinking a glass of water

The most common cause of bladder infections is E.coli bacteria, which naturally exist in your bowel. Women can get bladder infections from wiping the bottom from back to front (instead of front to back) after going to the toilet. This moves bacteria from the anal area close to the opening of the urethra.

Since women have a much shorter urethra than men, they are much more likely than men to get cystitis, also known as bladder infection.

There are many other causes of bladder infections, as well as different types of cystitis which can affect women, men and children.

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Common causes of bladder infections

E. coli bacteria are responsible for almost 9 out of 10 cases of cystitis. These bacteria live in your bowel and are part of its normal gut flora. Bladder infections happen when these bowel bacteria come into close proximity with the opening of the urethra and eventually reach the bladder. Urine is naturally “germ-less”, and washes out germs in the urethra and the bladder, keeping both almost entirely germ-free. When E. coli bacteria enter the bladder, they can multiply quickly and cause an infection.

Beating Cystitis - Women

In order to avoid bladder infections, you should wipe from front to back after going to the toilet. Having sex can potentially move bacteria from your anus closer to your urethra and cause a bladder infection. Urinating shortly after intercourse helps prevent bladder infections caused by sex. Medical tests which involve inserting instruments (e.g. a catheter) into the urethra can also sometimes trigger a bout of cystitis. In order to prevent cystitis it is important to go to the toilet regularly and empty the bladder completely every time.

Risk factors - Women

It's estimated that 30-50% of women will have cystitis at some time in their life. Risk factors which contribute to cystitis include:

  • Pregnancy – hormonal and physical changes can contribute to the infection
  • Menopause – hormonal changes can trigger cystitis
  • Using a contraceptive diaphragm
  • Sexual activity - increases the chances of bacteria being transferred to the urethra. Having unprotected sex with new partners increases the risk of infection due to the body's unfamiliarity with bacteria carried by the new partner
  • Diabetes – excess sugar facilitates the reproduction of bacteria
  • Impaired immune system – when natural defenses are down (e.g. because of an illness or medical treatment)
  • Foreign bodies in or near the bladder - such as tubes, catheters, kidney stones
  • Strong allergies to vaginal creams and other hygiene products
  • Vaginal infections such as thrush
  • Sexually transmitted infections (such as chlamydia) increase the risks of getting cystitis

There is also some evidence that using a spermicide can affect the normal vaginal bacteria and lead to a bladder infection.

Other causes of bladder infections in men and women

One of the main causes of bladder infections in men, women and children is the habit of not going to the toilet regularly enough and not emptying the bladder completely. If the bladder is not emptied often enough, bacteria may remain in the bladder and cause an infection. Going to the toilet whenever you need to can help reduce the occurrence of cystitis.

Some people get bladder infections because they don't drink enough. If you do not drink enough water, the urine in your bladder becomes very concentrated, allowing bacteria to multiply and cause an infection. To prevent this cause of cystitis, you should make sure you drink plenty of water, herbal tea or diluted fruit juice (it is best to avoid soft drinks, which tend to contain a large amount of sugar).

Other possible causes of cystitis include a physical blockage somewhere in your kidneys, bladder or urethra, for example because of kidney stones or prostate problems in men.

Risk factors in men

Bladder infections in men are often the symptom of an underlying condition and call for a visit to the doctor. Cystitis in men can be the sign of an obstruction somewhere within the urinary tract. Sexually transmitted infections can also cause bladder infections in men.

Different causes for non-infectious cystitis

Other types of bladder infection can be caused by: medications (in particular chemotherapy, which causes bladder inflammation), radiation treatment (e.g. for cancers) and related conditions (e.g. cancers and tumours in the pelvic area, tuberculosis and pelvic inflammatory disease). Some women also suffer from interstitial cystitis (non-infectious), which is a form of chronic bladder inflammation. Its cause is still unclear and it can be difficult to diagnose and treat.

Treating a bladder infection - Possible risks

Most cases of cystitis pass within a few days. However, if your symptoms last for more than a few days, you should seriously consider medical treatment for your bladder infection. Untreated cystitis can spread to the kidneys and cause a kidney infection. 

When you recognise the signs of a bladder infection, you should consult a doctor to make sure that your problem doesn't get worse. There are more serious diseases related to the urinary tract which can cause similar symptoms, so if your symptoms don't resolve, it's a good idea to go for a check up.

No matter what causes your bladder infection, a short antibiotic course will usually cure the infection. Just remember that even if you feel better after a few days, you still need to finish the prescribed treatment course. You can order an antibiotic treatment online from our trusted online doctor service. Make sure you drink plenty of liquids during and after your treatment to support the healing process. If you get persistent and recurrent bladder infections, you should consult your GP.

  • UK registered doctors
  • Delivery to Home or Pharmacy
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