Why are women more likely to have chronic bladder infections? What can be done about them?

Answer From Tatnai Burnett, M.D.

A bladder infection is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI). You might have chronic, or recurrent, bladder infections if you have two or more bladder infections in six months or three or more infections in a year.

Several factors make women more likely to have recurrent bladder infections. These factors include:

  • Having kidney or bladder stones.
  • Bacteria getting into the urethra during sex. The urethra is the passage that allows urine to exit the body.
  • Changing estrogen levels during menopause.
  • Problems with the urinary tract shape or function.
  • An inherited risk of developing bladder infections.

Tests to find the cause of recurrent bladder infections may include:

  • Collecting a urine sample for a urine culture test to see what bacteria may be causing infection
  • A visual exam of the bladder and urethra with a lighted device (cystoscopy)
  • A computerized tomography (CT) scan of the urinary tract

Treatment is directed at the underlying cause, when possible. If an underlying cause can't be found, one of these treatments may help:

  • A low-dose antibiotic taken for at least six months and up to two years
  • Intermittent or self-directed antibiotic therapy — for instance, taking an antibiotic after sex or starting a course of antibiotics at the first sign of a UTI
  • Vaginal estrogen therapy for signs or symptoms related to vaginal dryness after menopause

Expert opinions vary on whether certain lifestyle changes reduce the risk of bladder infection. It may be helpful to:

  • Drink plenty of liquids, especially water, to help flush out bacteria
  • Urinate often, especially when you feel the need
  • Wipe from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement
  • Take showers rather than baths
  • Gently wash the skin around your vagina and anus daily using a mild soap and plenty of water
  • Use forms of birth control other than a diaphragm and spermicides
  • Empty your bladder as soon as possible after sex
  • Avoid using deodorant sprays or scented feminine products in the genital area

Some studies have shown that cranberry products may have infection-fighting properties to help prevent urinary tract infections. But evidence is limited and inconsistent. Cranberry does not help treat an existing UTI.

With

Tatnai Burnett, M.D.

Oct. 26, 2021