Bladder infections are a common problem for women, accounting for more than 6 million office visits each year. Men, because of the greater distance between their bladder and urethral opening, only rarely develop bladder infections.
The primary symptoms of a bladder infection are burning during urination, frequency of urination, and urgency to urinate, possibly accompanied by pain in the lower abdomen and cloudy or bloody urine. Occasionally, the infection spreads upward into the kidneys, producing symptoms such as intense back pain, high fever, chills, nausea, and diarrhea.
Conventional treatment for bladder infections consists of appropriate antibiotic treatment guided by urine culture. Women with frequent bladder infections may keep on hand a prescription for antibiotics to be used when symptoms arise. Some women may choose to take antibiotics continuously to prevent infection. Certain hygiene habits, such as showering before or urinating after oral sex or intercourse, are commonly said to be helpful, although this has not been proven.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Women who do not want to use antibiotics may be able to find some help through the use of herbs. However, if symptoms do not improve or signs of a kidney infection develop, medical attention is essential to prevent serious complications.
Cranberry juice is commonly used to prevent bladder infections as well as to overcome low-level chronic infections. The cranberry plant is a close relative of the common blueberry. Native Americans used it both as food and as a treatment for bladder and kidney diseases. The Pilgrims learned about cranberry from local tribes and quickly adopted it for their own use. Subsequent physicians used it for bladder infections, for "bladder gravel," and to remove "blood toxins."
In the 1920s, researchers observed that drinking cranberry juice makes the urine more acidic. Because common urine infection bacteria, such as E. coli , dislike acidic surroundings, physicians concluded that they had discovered a scientific explanation for the traditional uses of cranberry. This discovery led to widespread medical use of cranberry juice for bladder infections. Cranberry fell out of favor after World War II, only to return in the 1960s as a self-treatment for bladder infections.
As noted above, hydroquinone is toxic, and for this reason most experts recommend that uva ursi should not be used for more than a couple of weeks.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Uva Ursi article.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
ProbioticsE. coli E. coli Lactobacillus
The herb goldenseal is widely recommended for bladder infections, based on the antibiotic properties of its ingredient berberine. However, it is unlikely that goldenseal taken by mouth provides enough berberine in the bladder wall to have any effect.
Many nutritionally oriented physicians believe that regularly taking zinc supplements and decreasing sugar in the diet will help improve immunity against bladder infections. Herbs such as buchu , dandelion , goldenrod , juniper , cleaversparsley , and sandalwood may increase urine flow, which could be helpful for increasing speed of recovery from an infection that has already occurred. The herb lapacho and the supplement methionine are also sometimes recommended for bladder infections, but there is no real evidence that they work.
This topic is also discussed in the Homeopathy database, under the bladder infection chapter.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 09/2012 -
- Update Date: 09/17/2012 -