A bladder infection is the most common type of urinary tract infection (UTI). The infection causes cystitis, which is inflammation of the bladder. Symptoms of a bladder infection and cystitis include frequent or urgent need to urinate, pain or burning with urination, pelvic pressure or discomfort, and cloudy or bloody urine. There are other, noninfectious causes of cystitis. But when a UTI is to blame, you will need antibiotics to clear the infection. Knowing how bladder infections develop and how to treat bladder infections will help you prevent more serious problems. Common Causes of Bladder Infection Bladder infections occur when bacteria enter the urethra and make their way to the bladder. The urethra is the tube that empties urine from the body. Bacteria live on the skin and in the area around the opening of the urethra. When bacteria enter the urethra, the body can usually flush them out since urine only flows one way. However, in certain situations, this natural defense fails and bacteria invade the bladder. Women are more prone to bladder infections than men due to a shorter urethra. The female urethra is also closer to the rectum, where large numbers of bacteria live. Sexual activity, dehydration, and other factors can make bladder infections more likely. Pregnancy and menopause can increase the risk as well. In men, an enlarged prostate is a risk factor for bladder infections. How to Treat a Bladder Infection You can’t treat a bladder infection at home. Bladder infection treatment requires antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria. It can take a few doses of antibiotics before symptoms begin to improve. In the meantime, you can use home remedies for bladder infection symptom relief. To ease bladder infection pain and discomfort, try the following strategies: Apply heat to soothe your abdomen. You can use a heating pad or a hot water bottle. Use warm, not hot, heat. Drink plenty of fluids to flush out the bacteria. Water is the best choice. Avoid drinks that can irritate the urinary tract and make your symptoms worse. This includes carbonated drinks and those containing alcohol, caffeine, and citrus juices. Take phenazopyridine to relieve pain in the urinary tract. This drug is available over the counter without a prescription as various brands, including Azo. It will not cure or treat the bladder infection, but it can ease the pain while the antibiotics start to work. The safest way to take it is after seeing your doctor and discussing its use. Cranberry juice is a popular choice for people who want to prevent bladder infections. The science on prevention is inconclusive, but drinking it is safe for most people. However, cranberry juice can’t treat a bladder infection and may actually irritate the bladder. When to See a Doctor for Bladder Infection See your doctor promptly if you have any symptoms of a bladder infection including: Cloudy, bloody, or strong-smelling urine Frequent or urgent need to urinate Pain or burning with urination Pelvic discomfort or pressure Urinating small amounts frequently Left untreated, bladder infections can lead to a kidney infection, permanent kidney damage, and even sepsis. Seek immediate medical care for symptoms of a kidney infection including: Confusion or mental status changes Fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher Nausea and vomiting Night sweats Pain in the back, side or abdomen Shaking and chills Who to See for Bladder Infection Your primary care doctor can diagnose and treat simple bladder infections. You will need to give a urine sample for analysis. If an infection is present, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Be sure to complete the entire course of antibiotics. Your symptoms will likely improve after a day or two, but it’s important not to stop once you’re feeling better. Without full treatment, bladder infections often return and can be more difficult to treat. If you have symptoms after hours, an urgent care doctor can also help. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a urologist. A urologist specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions of the urinary tract. Their expertise may be necessary for recurrent bladder infections or if a kidney infection develops. They also treat bladder infections in males and when an underlying disease or a structural or functional problem is causing the problem. Bladder infections are not something to ignore or to try to treat yourself. They can cause extreme discomfort and lead to serious complications. Play it safe with your health and consult your doctor if you suspect a bladder infection.