What Are Bladder Infections?

Medically Reviewed by Kumar Shital, DO on September 18, 2023
2 min read

Bladder infections have a way of getting your attention. You make countless trips to the bathroom, and still you feel like you have to go again. And once you’re in there, instead of mindlessly going about your business, you feel burning or stinging every time you pee.

When you get a bladder infection, it leads to cystitis, which is when your bladder swells and gets irritated. That’s what causes the symptoms. A bladder infection is the most common type of urinary tract infection (UTI).

Here are the parts of your urinary tract and what they do:

  • Your kidneys clean waste from your blood and make pee.
  • Your ureters are thin tubes that carry urine from each kidney to your bladder.
  • Your bladder stores pee.
  • Your urethra carries pee from the bladder to the outside of your body.

Women get bladder infections more often than men do. Usually, the infections are more annoying than they are serious and can be treated with antibiotics. Sometimes a bladder infection can travel up the ureters to the kidneys and cause an infection there. This is why it's important to treat these infections right away

The main culprits are bacteria, usually E. coli. These bacteria live on your skin and in your intestines and most of the time, they’re not a problem. Everyone has them. But if they get into the urethra, they can end up in the bladder and cause an infection.

Bladder infections are more common in women than men for several reasons.

A woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s, and it’s close to the vagina and anus, where bacteria live. Having sex, wiping from back to front after you go to the bathroom, putting in a tampon, and using a diaphragm for birth control are some of the ways bacteria can get in.

During pregnancy, the baby can press on your bladder, which prevents it from emptying completely and gives bacteria a place to thrive.

After menopause, women have less of the hormone estrogen. That causes the lining of the urethra to get thinner and may change the balance of bacteria in the vagina, making infections more likely.

When men get them, a prostate infection usually is the cause. But any blockage -- like from a bladder stone or enlarged prostate -- can prevent the bladder from totally emptying and cause infection.