What to Do for a Bladder Infection

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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The pain and burning of a urinary tract infection (UTI, also called a bladder infection) can feel almost unbearable. Fortunately, most UTIs can be treated with antibiotics that relieve symptoms within a couple of days. While you wait for the prescription medication to kick in, you can try bladder infection treatment at home. Find out what works (and what’s an urban myth) when it comes to treatment of UTI.

How Bladder Infections Occur

Most UTIs occur when bacteria from fecal material (stool) comes in contact with the opening of the urethra—the tube that drains urine from your bladder. These bacteria, such as E. coli, move into the urethra and grow into a colony that irritates urethral tissue and causes inflammation and swelling. As urine passes out of the body, over the irritated tissues, pain and burning occur.

Left untreated, these bacteria can migrate into the bladder itself and even into the kidneys, causing a serious infection. And fecal bacteria aren’t the only things that can cause a bladder infection. 

Other UTI causes include:

  • Fungi, including Candida—the same type that causes vaginal yeast infections

  • Long-term urinary catheter use

  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like trichomoniasis, a parasite that can invade the urethra

  • Stones in the urinary tract (urethritis), especially in men

  • Underlying medical issues like prostatitis

  • Viruses, including herpes (herpes simplex virus type II)

Because many conditions and diseases can cause a UTI, you should always get a professional diagnosis before you try treating it at home.

Bladder Infection Diagnosis and Medical Treatment

Diagnosing a UTI usually involves a simple urine test. Your doctor or nurse will check your urine for signs of bacteria. However, if your urine tests clear of bacteria, then your healthcare provider will move on to other diagnostic tests that may include lab work or imaging studies.

Since the vast majority of bladder infections are caused by bacteria, you’ll likely receive a prescription antibiotic to clear the bacteria from your urinary tract. These drugs are precisely calibrated to work over a defined time frame, so it’s important you take all of the medication exactly as prescribed—even if your symptoms resolve. If you don’t take all the medicine, you run the risk of leaving pathogenic bacteria in your system. You might relieve your symptoms without actually destroying all the bacteria. In that case, your symptoms will return quickly.

Bladder Infection Home Treatments

Antibiotics should start providing symptom relief within 48 hours, but in the meantime, you can try a bladder infection natural remedy like flushing, over-the-counter medications, and comfort measures. These strategies should help alleviate bladder infection symptoms quickly.

Applying Heat to the Lower Abdomen

Applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to the bladder area may provide some relief from discomfort. Be careful to keep a protective towel between your skin and the heating pad or hot water bottle to avoid burning your skin. Try applying mild heat to the lower abdomen for 20 minutes at a time. Taking a warm shower or soaking in a hot bath may also relax muscles and provide pain relief.

Flushing the Urinary Tract

Drink plenty of water to help the antibiotics work and to literally flush bacteria out of your urinary tract. Drinking lots of water will cause you to urinate more frequently, which may feel uncomfortable, but it ultimately will soothe irritated internal tissues. Do not drink excessive quantities (a gallon or more) of water over a short time span, because this can lead to water intoxication, or a dangerous lowering of electrolyte levels in your body.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Most people can safely take over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol to ease the discomfort of a bladder infection. In addition, you can try a product that contains the drug phenazopyridine. This medication is a dye that exerts an anesthetic effect on the lining of the urinary tract. It relieves UTI symptoms like painful urination and urinary urgency. Phenazopyridine will turn the color of your urine dark orange or red and may stain undergarments. Over-the-counter pain relievers and phenazopyridine should be safe to take with most antibiotics, but consult your pharmacist to be sure.

One popular bladder infection treatment that probably doesn’t help? Cranberry juice. Despite showing promise in early research studies, cranberry juice since has been deemed ineffective for curing UTIs or even relieving symptoms. In fact, the sugars contained in cranberry juice may actually feed existing bacteria in the urinary tract. It’s an urban myth that drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry capsules can ‘cure’ a UTI. Instead, you should seek medical care promptly so the infection doesn’t migrate to your kidneys and cause serious complications.

Bladder infections may be uncomfortable, but with early diagnosis and appropriate home care you can get on your way to feeling normal again within a day or two.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 2
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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