Bladder infections can affect anyone, but the symptoms may differ depending on a person’s age and sex. Without treatment, a bladder infection can develop into a kidney infection, which can have serious complications.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are responsible for more than 8.1 million visits to the doctor’s office each year. Medical treatments are available to get rid of the infection, and people can also use home remedies to relieve the symptoms.

In this article, we look at how the symptoms of a bladder infection vary between females and males and how the condition affects people of different ages.

A caregiver holding a baby who may be experiencing symptoms of a bladder infection.Share on Pinterest
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Bladder infections are a type of UTI.

UTIs can develop in any part of a person’s urinary tract, which includes the ureters, urethra, bladder, and kidneys. A bladder infection, which a doctor may refer to as cystitis, is the most common type of UTI.

UTIs occur when bacteria get into the urinary tract and cause irritation to the area. These bacteria usually come from the skin or the rectum.

The symptoms of a bladder infection in children can be more difficult to notice, as they may appear to be nonspecific.

Additionally, younger children may sometimes find it more difficult to communicate their symptoms to a parent or caregiver.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, some of the symptoms of a bladder infection in children under the age of 2 years include:

However, in some cases, fever may be the only symptom.

In those over the age of 2 years, symptoms typically include:

  • fever
  • pain or burning during urination
  • urine that is cloudy, dark, bloody, or strong-smelling
  • frequent and intense urges to urinate
  • pain in the back or belly
  • bed-wetting even when toilet trained

Bladder infections can affect people of any age and sex, but females are more likely than males to develop them.

The reason for this is that females have shorter urethras. As a result, bacteria have to travel less far to reach the bladder and cause an infection.

In adults, the symptoms may include:

  • more frequent urination than normal
  • burning sensation when urinating
  • intense urge to urinate
  • little or no urine coming out despite feeling the need to urinate
  • pain when urinating
  • cloudy urine
  • strong-smelling urine
  • feeling generally unwell, achy, sick, and tired
  • blood in the urine

Specific to females

Research indicates that about half of all females will develop a UTI during their lifetime, with most of these infections being bladder infections.

As well as the symptoms above, females may experience pain above the pubic bone.

Specific to males

There do not appear to be additional symptoms that are specific to males, although some may experience a full feeling in the rectum.

According to a 2021 article, if males experience recurrent bladder infections, they should see a healthcare professional to rule out the possibility of chronic bacterial prostatitis, which is an infection of the prostate.

The symptoms of bacterial prostatitis include:

  • a burning sensation when passing urine
  • frequent urge to urinate
  • pain in the bladder, testicles, penis, and area between the sex organs and the anus
  • pain when ejaculating

A 2020 article notes that bladder infections are common during pregnancy due to changes in the urinary tract.

The symptoms of a bladder infection in pregnant people are the same as those in people who are not pregnant.

Some pregnant people may not experience any symptoms until the bladder infection develops into a kidney infection, called pyelonephritis, which can cause complications.

Therefore, healthcare teams often test people frequently throughout their pregnancy to monitor for UTIs.

The symptoms of a kidney infection include:

  • pain in the back or side
  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea

Older adults with a bladder infection will likely experience the typical symptoms, which include a frequent and urgent need to urinate and pain during urination.

However, nonspecific symptoms of bladder infections in older adults include:

  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • back pain
  • chills
  • constipation
  • confusion

People with dementia who develop a bladder infection may present with confusion or other changes in their mental state.

It is important that people caring for individuals with dementia are aware that this may be a symptom of a bladder infection, as an early diagnosis allows treatment to occur as soon as possible.

As bladder infections are the result of bacteria, a doctor will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics as treatment.

A person should ensure that they complete the course of antibiotics even if they begin to feel better. Doing this will ensure that the infection is completely gone and reduce the likelihood of it coming back.

Treatment for children

Intravenous antibiotics may be necessary for those under 2 months of age. For older infants and children, a healthcare professional may prescribe antibiotics in the form of a liquid or chewable tablet.

Home remedies for children include drinking plenty of liquids, urinating often, and using a heating pad under supervision to ease the pain.

Treatment during pregnancy

A 2020 article states that a 1-day antibiotic course is not suitable during pregnancy but that 3-day courses can be effective.

A doctor may prescribe:

  • amoxicillin
  • cephalosporins
  • nitrofurantoin
  • trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole

A person can also take steps at home to help alleviate the symptoms of a bladder infection.

Cranberry

Some people believe that drinking cranberry juice can help treat a bladder infection.

Although there is limited evidence to verify this, it is important to note that drinking cranberry juice has no known adverse effects.

Additionally, it can help people stay hydrated.

Pain relief

Although pain relievers will not treat the underlying infection, they could help ease the pain.

A person can also use a hot water bottle or heating pad on their stomach or between their thighs.

Hydration

Keeping hydrated means that a person is likely to urinate more often and, as a result, keep flushing bacteria out of the urinary tract.

Abstinence

If someone has a bladder infection, continuing to have sex may make it worse because this activity can move more bacteria into the urinary tract.

People should avoid sexual intercourse when they are experiencing a bladder infection.

People of any age and sex can get a bladder infection, but certain factors increase a person’s risk of developing one.

A bladder infection usually occurs when harmful bacteria from the bowels enter the urinary tract and spread to the bladder.

They can do this as a result of a person:

  • having sexual intercourse
  • wiping the bottom from back to front
  • using a catheter
  • using a diaphragm as contraception

However, a bladder infection can also occur due to irritation or damage to the urethra, which can result from:

  • the use of chemical irritants, such as perfumed bubble bath or soap
  • radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • damage from catheter use
  • friction from sexual intercourse

Other risk factors include:

Although it is not always possible to prevent a bladder infection, a person can take steps to minimize their risk of developing one.

These include:

  • staying hydrated
  • urinating after sexual intercourse
  • avoiding douching
  • keeping the area around the genitals clean
  • wiping from front to back after going to the toilet (and teaching young children to do the same)
  • ensuring that the genital area is as clean as possible before the insertion of a catheter
  • wearing cotton underwear
  • urinating when the urge develops

Females who regularly develop bladder infections may not need to visit their doctor every time. Mild cases can get better without treatment, and people may learn to recognize the symptoms and treat them at home.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that even though most people can treat bladder infections outside the hospital, some individuals may need to go to the hospital.

Without treatment, a person risks the bladder infection spreading to other parts of the urinary tract.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), people should seek medical advice if:

  • they are not sure whether their symptoms are due to a bladder infection or another condition
  • their symptoms do not start to improve after 3 days
  • they frequently get bladder infections
  • their symptoms are severe, such as experiencing blood in the urine
  • they are pregnant
  • they are male
  • a child in their care is displaying symptoms of a bladder infection

Bladder infections are extremely common and can affect anyone regardless of age or sex.

The symptoms typically include painful and frequent urination. However, children, older adults, and those with dementia may experience nonspecific symptoms.

In some cases, bladder infections may resolve spontaneously. However, in others, they may progress into a kidney infection, which can be much more serious. Therefore, anyone who thinks that they may be experiencing a bladder infection for the first time should seek medical advice.