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Bacterial infection of the urinary bladder in male and females is commonly called cystitis. This is much more common in females than in males. In fact up to 20 percent of all women have at least one episode of cystitis during their lifetime. Normally, the bladder contains no bacteria. However, bacteria can gain entrance to the bladder through the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body). Once the bacteria enter the bladder, they quickly multiply (within hours) and cause an infection (cystitis). Rarely, the infection can spread up the ureters into the kidneys. When the kidneys become involved with the infection, it is termed pyelonephritis.


Symptoms of a bladder infection (cystitis) include frequent urination, urinary urgency, burning and pain with urination (dysuria), a sensation of incomplete bladder emptying, low back pain, and sometimes, fever and chills. The urine may have a foul odor and appear cloudy or bloody. If left untreated, bladder infections may spread to the kidneys and then to the blood causing a life-threatening situation.           


The diagnosis of a urinary tract infection is made by your doctor with a simple analysis of your urine. It may be examined under the microscope and then sent for a urine culture to identify the type of bacteria causing the infection and the most appropriate medication for treating the infection. Unfortunately, the urine culture may require several days, and thus you will initially be given a medication that is most likely going to be effective. However, your doctor may contact you to change medications after 2 or 3 days once the urine culture is completed and the most appropriate medication to treat your infection is known. 


Most infections are easily treated with a short course of antibiotic medications. However, patients who have fevers, severe back pain, or other coexisting medical conditions such as diabetes or pregnancy, should see their doctor immediately. All children with suspected urinary tract infections should be evaluated immediately to prevent damage to the kidneys. Patients with more than one or two infections per year, unresolved infections despite appropriate treatment, or blood in the urine, may require additional testing including x-rays, ultrasound or cystoscopy (endoscopic examination of the bladder with a small telescope).