5 signs you’ve got a bladder infection
Bladder infection (cystitis) is very common in women. Around half of all women will have a bladder infection at some point in their life.
If you have any of the following 5 symptoms, you might have a bladder infection:
- pain or a burning feeling when you pee
- needing to pee more often than usual
- feeling like you need to pee suddenly, without warning
- pee that looks cloudy or bloody
- pain in your lower abdomen (tummy area)
Let’s look at the common symptoms of a bladder infection in more detail, as well as causes and treatment.
What is a bladder infection?
A bladder infection, also called cystitis or a water infection, can develop if bacteria get into the bladder. Although a bladder infection is usually mild, it can be very uncomfortable and may need treatment.
Bladder infections are common, particularly in women. This is because women have a shorter urethra (the tube that empties the bladder) than men. This makes it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder and cause infection.
Is a bladder infection the same as a UTI?
A bladder infection is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI). Your bladder is one part of a system called the urinary tract, which also includes the urethra (the tube that you pee out of) and your kidneys.
A urinary tract infection (UTI) means an infection affecting any part of the urinary tract. A bladder infection (or cystitis) means an infection of the bladder specifically. Other types of UTI are infection of the urethra or a kidney infection.
What causes a bladder infection?
A bladder infection is caused by bacteria. There are plenty of bacteria outside your genital area and in your digestive system. Most of the time these bacteria are harmless and do not cause any problems.
Sometimes though, bacteria may enter the urethra – the tube that empties your bladder. If this happens, the bacteria may travel up to the bladder where they can cause an infection. This can lead to inflammation and causes the symptoms of a bladder infection, such as pain or a burning sensation.
It’s not always clear exactly why a bladder infection develops when it does, but there are some situations where it is more common.
Bladder infections are more common in:
- pregnant women
- women who have been through menopause
- people with diabetes or a weakened immune system
- people with a catheter (a tube that empties the bladder, often used when a person has surgery or if someone has difficulty emptying their bladder)
- people who wipe from back to front when cleaning themselves after going to the toilet
If you have a catheter and you think you may have a bladder infection, you should speak to your doctor straight away.
The risk of a bladder infection is also higher in people using a diaphragm for contraception or spermicide. Frequent sexual intercourse or having a new sexual partner can also increase the risk of a bladder infection.
Bladder infection symptoms
There are some symptoms that are common in people who have a bladder infection. If you have a bladder infection, you may experience some, all, or none of these symptoms. To check if you have a bladder infection, you may need to pee into a urine sample tube for your doctor to do a urine test.
Pain or burning sensation when urinating
You may feel like peeing is painful, or it feels like your pee is hot and burning. This can be very uncomfortable and stop you from wanting to pee at all.
Frequent urination means feeling like you need to pee more often than usual. You may be woken at night by a need to pee. You may also find that you only pee a small amount at a time.
An urgency to urinate
An urgency to urinate means feeling like you need to pee suddenly and without much warning. Sometimes the feeling of needing to pee may not go away even after peeing.
Bloody or cloudy urine
If you have a bladder infection you may notice that your pee looks bloody or cloudy. More rarely, blood in the urine can also be a symptom of other conditions. If you have blood in your urine, it is important to speak with your doctor as soon as you can.
If you have a bladder infection you may notice that your pee smells unpleasant. You may not always get to the toilet in time to pee or some pee may leak out (incontinence). Some people also experience pain in their lower tummy when they have a bladder infection. A bladder infection may make you feel generally unwell and tired.
In elderly people, confusion can be a symptom of a bladder infection. And it’s important that they are not left alone, and taken to a doctor as soon as possible.
Bladder infections are usually mild and easily treated. But if a bladder infection becomes more serious or is untreated it may cause a fever or shivers, or nausea and vomiting. If you have any of these symptoms you should speak to your doctor straight away or call 111.
How to treat a bladder infection
A bladder infection may get better without treatment after a couple of days. If you think you have a bladder infection there are some things you can do to help look after yourself. These include:
- making sure you drink plenty of fluids (ideally plain, still water)
- taking some pain relief, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
- avoiding sex during this time
Bladder infections that do not improve after 2 or 3 days will usually need treatment with a course of antibiotics. Not only can a bladder infection be uncomfortable or painful, but if untreated the infection can spread to other parts of the urinary tract.
If you are a woman aged 18 to 64, you can get antibiotic treatment for a bladder infection on prescription. If you have symptoms of a bladder infection that have not improved after 2 days, fill out our online form and one of our doctors will check if it is suitable for you. Antibiotics will usually clear up a bladder infection within a few days.
If you are pregnant and think you might have a bladder infection, speak to your doctor straight away.
If a child has symptoms of a bladder infection, speak to your doctor or call 111.
Some women have recurrent bladder infections. This means the infection comes back after treatment at least twice in 6 months or at least 3 times in a year. If you have a bladder infection that has come back after treatment you should speak to your doctor.
Bladder infections are less common in men. If you are a man and think you may have a bladder infection, speak to your doctor for advice.
How to prevent bladder infections
There are some things you can do that may help prevent bladder infections in the future, such as:
- staying hydrated, by drinking plenty of water each day
- always wiping your bottom from front to back after using the toilet
- avoiding wearing underwear and trousers that are too tight
- trying not to hold your pee for too long, and when you pee, make sure you empty your bladder fully
- avoiding using perfumed products or vaginal douches around the vagina
- if you use a diaphragm for contraception, you may wish to try a different method
Drinking cranberry juice has often been said to help prevent cystitis, but there is not enough evidence to be certain how effective this is. Cranberry juice has a high sugar content and it’s best to drink plain still water to help flush out bacteria instead.
Dr Kathryn Basford
Dr Kathryn Basford is a qualified GP who works as a GP in London, as well as with ZAVA. She graduated from the University of Manchester and completed her GP training through Whipps Cross Hospital in London.Meet our doctors
Article created: 09 Mar 2022
Last reviewed: 09 Mar 2022
Cystitis (NHS) [Aug 2018] [accessed Jan 2022]
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) (NHS) [Nov 2020] [accessed Jan 2022]
Cystitis in Women (Patient) [Sep 2018] [accessed Jan 2022]
Urinary Tract Infection in Adults (Patient) [Jan 2022] [accessed Jan 2022]
(Reviews are for ZAVA UK)