Any woman who has ever had a bladder infection remembers it well – and not fondly! It’s something you hope never to repeat. Yet, many women find themselves suffering from more frequent infections after menopause. And it’s not only the bladder, these infections can affect any part of the urinary tract. Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are worse than annoying because they negatively impact daily living.

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Common Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infection

Bacterial infection can occur within the urethra as well as farther up the urinary system, in the bladder. Untreated, infection can work its way into the kidneys, causing serious health problems. While UTIs do not always cause dramatic symptoms, it’s important to recognize the signs, especially since they can sometimes mimic other problems such as a yeast infection.

Symptoms can vary depending on the location of the infection, but typically they include:

  • Persistent sense of urgency, leading to frequent urination, but only small amounts each time
  • Burning sensation or pain during urination
  • Pelvic pain or discomfort
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • Pink, red, or brownish urine (indicating presence of blood)

An infection that has passed into the kidneys can cause additional symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, and pain in the upper back and flanks.

What Causes UTIs?

Infection of the urethra is called urethritis. Infection of the bladder is called cystitis. Either can occur when bacteria enter the urethra and then multiply there or in the bladder. Women are more prone to UTIs, thanks to their anatomy. Anal and vaginal (urethral) openings are relatively close to one another, and women have a shorter urethra than men, making it easier for bacteria to migrate into the bladder.

The culprit is often Escherichia coli (E. coli) — bacteria that are often found naturally in the gastrointestinal tract. The bacteria can spread from the anus to the urethra through sexual intercourse or by wiping the vagina from back to front after using the toilet. However, menopause increases risk of infection because it greatly diminishes estrogen production.

Estrogen is a hormone which is responsible, among other things, for maintaining vaginal health. It encourages growth of elastic, hydrated skin tissue and production of lubricating discharge that cleanses the urinary canal. Estrogen also helps keep pH level slightly acidic, which discourages bacterial growth. Post-menopausal estrogen reduction often leads to vaginal atrophy, leaving the urethra and bladder more vulnerable to infection.

Treating Urinary Tract Infections

The most important thing to know about UTIs is that they cannot be cured without antibiotics. There are products you can purchase over the counter to help relieve pain associated with bladder infection, and there are steps you can take to help prevent or alleviate symptoms, such as:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids, which encourages urination to flush infection
  • Drinking cranberry juice (often recommended though not medically proven to prevent UTIs)
  • Always wiping from front to back
  • Avoiding feminine products such as sprays, douches and powders, because they can irritate the urethra