BLADDER INFECTION: CAUSE, SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENT
The most common bacterial infections in women is Urinary tract infection (UTIs), where bladder infections top the list. The reason such infections are predominantly a female affliction has to do with relative shortness of the urethra (the tube that transports fluids from the kidneys to the genitals for removal). Bowel bacteria such as E. coli, the usual cause of UTIs, simply don’t need to travel far to reach the bladder. And bacteria are, the most common cause of acute bladder infections.
Symptoms: Classic symptoms include burning with urination, increased frequency of urination, an urgent need to urinate (even if the bladder isn’t very full), night time urination, and discomfort above the pubic bone. The urine may be cloudy and foul smelling. Young children may have only nonspecific symptoms, such as a mild fever, irritability, poor feeding, and restless sleep.
If bacteria are present in urine, oral antibiotics are prescribed. Antibiotics not only quickly stamp out the infection but prevent the bacteria from ascending to the kidneys. Kidney infection (pyelonephritis) is serious. Symptoms include flank pain, fever, and chills. It can scar the kidneys, leading to problems such as high blood pressure and kidney failure.
Precautions: If you have recurrent bladder infections, you can do a number of things to reduce your risk of recurrence.
• Drink lots of water—drink at least eight glasses a day, more if you live in a dry or hot environment or have been exercising.
• Urinate whenever you feel the urge; do not hold it. Urination helps flush out any bacteria before they have a chance to stick to the bladder lining.
• Always wipe from front to back.
• Avoid constipation because it can trigger a UTI.
• Avoid irritants to the genital area, such as bubble baths, scented soaps, and deodorizing sprays. Such agents can inflame the urethra and vagina, creating symptoms that mimic a bladder infection.
• Don’t douche as douching undermines vaginal health and it also increases the risk of UTIs.
• Urinate after having sex. (Intercourse can facilitate the movement of bacteria into the urethra and bladder.)
• If you’re using spermicidal gels with or without a diaphragm, ask your doctor whether a different contraceptive might be a better choice for you.
Many beautiful, tasty, health-promoting berries are in the Vaccinium genus, including cranberry, blueberry, bilberry, lingonberry, and huckleberry. These `berries contain a number of chemicals, including polysaccharides (complex sugars) and anthocyanidins, which are a type of flavonoid responsible for the berries’ deep blue and red hues. Cranberry is most famous for its ability to reduce recurrent bladder infections. Chemical constituents in cranberries wrap around Escherichia coli (E. coli), the bacterium most often infecting the bladder. This coating prevents the bacteria from binding to the bladder’s lining. Urination flushes out those feckless bugs. However, if bacteria have already attached themselves to bladder cells, cranberry doesn’t kill them. That’s why the juice prevents but doesn’t seem effective in treating such infections.
Cranberry’s chemicals are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiplatelet (to prevent clotting within blood vessels), and anticancer. The berries are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Blueberry discourages food-borne disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. RECIPES FOR BLADDER HEALTH
Before recommending recipes for bladder health, we’d like to stress the importance of proper medical treatment of UTIs. These remedies are not intended as a replacement for antibiotic treatment. They may, however, help prevent recurrent infections.
1 cup (235 ml) unsweetened cranberry juice
¾ cup (175 ml) carbonated (sparkling) water
2 lemon slices
2 teaspoons (14 g) honey
Preparation and use: Mix together all the ingredients. Aim to drink both servings of this cocktail in one day. Recipe Variation: Substitute apple juice or sparkling cider for the carbonated water and omit the honey. Research studies show that cranberry juice and concentrated cranberry tablets reduce UTI recurrences. Also, the tannins that create the characteristic mouth-puckering effect of cranberries are also astringent in the urinary system. (Astringents tighten tissues and are thought to reduce surface irritation and inflammation. Cranberry is acidic, but it takes a lot of volume to acidify the urine enough to kill bacteria.) Note: The daily volume of cranberry juice used in studies ranges from 2 tablespoons (30 ml) to 1 cup (235 ml) of pure cranberry juice. Higher doses can loosen stools. If you find you can’t stomach cranberry juice, try taking concentrated cranberry in capsule form as directed on the label. Do not combine cranberry with the blood thinning medication warfarin (Coumadin) without first discussing with your doctor. Case reports suggest cranberry may augment the effect of Coumadin, further reducing the ability of blood to clot
BENEFICIAL BLUEBERRY SMOOTHIE
1 cup (230 g) plain yogurt
½ cup (75 g) blueberries
½ cup (120 ml) “crab-apple” juice (cranberry juice and apple juice combined)
Preparation and use: Mix all the ingredients in a blender. Enjoy. Blueberries belong to the same plant family as cranberries. They, too, contain flavonoids that inhibit the adhesion of bacteria to bodily surfaces. The yogurt contains beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that can help restore normal bowel bacteria if you’ve taken antibiotics to treat a UTI. However, the research is inconclusive as to whether probiotics (taken by mouth or used intravaginally) help prevent recurrent cystitis.
HONEYED GARLIC TEA
2 cups (475 ml) water
4 garlic cloves
1 to 2 teaspoons (7 to 14 g) honey
Preparation and use: Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Crush the garlic cloves and put in a mug (consider placing the crushed garlic inside a muslin bag or mesh tea ball). Pour the boiled water over the garlic. Cover the mug with a saucer. Let it steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the garlic, add the honey, and drink. Garlic is active against E. coli and other bacteria that can cause UTIs.
NUTRIENT-RICH DANDELION TEA
If in season, pick spring dandelion leaves—as long as they’re not exposed to pesticides or growing near a road. Bundle and hang to dry in a warm, dim place. Once dry to the touch, crumble the leaves; place in a clean, dry jar; and store in the cupboard.
1 quart (946 ml) water
3 tablespoons (4.5 g) dried, chopped dandelion leaves
1 teaspoon (0.5 g) chopped dried peppermint leaves, or 2 teaspoons (4 g) fresh, chopped
Honey, as needed
Preparation and use: Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Turn off the heat and add the dandelion and peppermint. Cover and steep for 20 minutes. Strain. Sweeten with honey to taste. Drink throughout the day. Dandelion is nutrient-rich and gently increases urine output. You can also enjoy the tender greens in salads, steamed, or sautéed. Peppermint is antispasmodic and also tastes pleasant.
This delicious dessert is smooth and creamy and delivers friendly bacteria to your system. For a drinkable smoothie version, see the variation below.
2 cups (about 200 g) frozen mixed berries, or ²∕3 bag (455 g)
½ cup (115 g) plain yogurt
3 tablespoons (60 g) honey
¹∕8 teaspoon almond extract
Preparation and use: Allow the berries to thaw for 7 to 10 minutes. Pour into a blender or processor and grind until the fruit pieces look like shaved ice. While the blender is running, add the yogurt, honey, and almond extract. Continue blending until the mixture is creamy. Eat immediately, as the texture will change when refrozen. Antibiotics effectively treat UTIs. However, they also kill some of the normal, friendly bacteria in the bowel. Probiotics, taken in supplement form, help recolonize normal bacteria and prevent side effects such as diarrhoea. Yogurt and other fermented foods, which contain beneficial bacteria, may also help. Recipe Variation: For drinkable smoothies, add ½ cup (120 ml) of almond milk.
SOOTHING SITZ BATH
If using oats for this recipe, be sure to put them in a coffee mill and grind them to a powder; otherwise, they’ll clog the drain.
2 to 3 cups (576 to 864 g) salt,
442 to 663g baking soda, or 160 to 240g colloidal oatmeal
Preparation and use: Fill your bathtub with water as warm as you can stand it. Pour in the salt, baking soda, or oatmeal and disperse. Soak for at least 30 minutes. The warmth of the water with the soothing ingredients helps relax the urethra. Baking soda and salt can soothe irritated membranes. Oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties and promotes wound healing. Vinegar, which you can also add, is mildly acidic and helps relieve irritation of the vagina and urethra. Note: Clean your feet before sitting in the tub so you do not introduce new bacteria. Encourage children who have trouble urinating because of pain to go ahead and squat in the water and let it go. Then have them stepped out of the tub immediately. Recipe Variation: You can also use 2 to 3 cups (475 to 700ml) of vinegar, but don’t combine it with baking soda, or you’ll have a fizzy reaction.
WHEN SIMPLE DOESN’T WORK
If you have recurring infections, you may want to see a urologist. He or she may prescribe antibiotics for a specific event, or a low dose of antibiotics over an extended time period, which can help avoid repeat infections. Also, you may want to purchase an over-the-counter, in-home test kit that can help you determine whether you need to call the doctor.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR
Call during office hours if:
• Your symptoms are consistent with a bladder infection.
• Antibiotics haven’t brought relief after twenty-four hours.
• Seek urgent medical care if:
• You’re pregnant and think you have a UTI.
• You have blood in your urine.
• You develop additional symptoms, such as flank pain, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting.
• You have diabetes or an immune deficiency syndrome (e.g., AIDS) with new signs of a UTI.