"I woke up one morning and every time I
had to urinate it became more and more painful," says Amy, a 28-year-old
publicist. The pain worsened throughout the day until she noticed she was
"I thought it was because I was drinking so much
cranberry juice," she says. It turned out the discoloration was due to
blood in her urine, caused by a bladder infection (cystitis).
By Hilda Hutcherson, M.D.
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Such infections occur when bacteria (usually E. coli,
normally found in the colon) enter the bladder.
Cystitis is the most common type of urinary tract infection
(UTI), a prevalent disorder that leads to about 9.6 million doctor visits
annually, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and
Kidney Diseases. Women are especially at risk, with one in five developing a
UTI during her lifetime.
It's important to seek treatment for a bladder infection
because it can lead to a kidney infection -- a more serious and potentially
life-threatening disorder -- if not treated.
While researchers still aren't clear why bladder infections
are so common in women, it's thought to be because a woman's urethra (the tube
that carries urine from the bladder out of the body) is short, and its opening
is close to the anus, making it easy for bacteria to travel from the colon to
Certain risk factors increase likelihood of a bladder
infection. They include:
sexual activity, which can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract;
use of diaphragms and spermicides, which alter the bacteria in a woman's
pregnancy, because of changes in anatomy and physiology (a UTI can put the
unborn child at risk and a doctor should be consulted immediately);
medical conditions that suppress the immune system or make emptying the
bladder difficult. Once a woman has a UTI, her chances of developing another
one increase substantially.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you have signs of a bladder infection, consult a doctor
as soon as possible, before the problem becomes more serious. Other conditions
with similar symptoms include urethritis (inflammation of the urethra),
interstitial cystitis (a bladder infection with unknown cause), urinary stones
and bladder tumors. Your doctor will ask questions about your medical and
sexual history and take a urine sample to see whether it contains bacteria and,
if so, what type.
Bladder infections are treated with a wide variety of
antibiotics. Symptoms usually clear up within a few days in uncomplicated
cases, though the medication needs to be taken for the entire prescribed course
to cure the infection. Other medications may be given to treat symptoms until
the antibiotics kick in.
Dr. James Lewis, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at
Kaiser Permanente Golden Gate Hospital in San Francisco, recommends a
urological evaluation for anyone who gets recurrent infections (more than two
or three a year), to see whether another medical problem or a congenital
malformation is causing them.