Is It Possible To Self-Treat a Bladder Infection?

Woman drinking cranberry juice
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A bladder infection—also known as a urinary tract infection (UTI)—occurs when bacteria multiply throughout the urinary system. While the majority of UTIs are not serious, they often cause severe symptoms such as pain and/or burning upon urination and there is the possibility of a more serious infection. Antibiotics prescribed by a physician are the only way to cure a bladder infection.

There are self-care measures to take that may help you clear the infection quicker and prevent getting a bladder infection in the future.

Symptoms of Bladder Infection

The symptoms that typically accompany a bladder infection include the strong, constant urge to urinate, a sharp pain or burning sensation in the urethra during urination, the inability to fully empty your bladder, blood in your urine, and a soreness in your lower abdomen, back, or sides.

Diagnosis and Treatment

You should see your healthcare provider when you notice these symptoms in order to receive a proper diagnosis and ensure that these are not signs of anything else. At that point, your doctor will be able to prescribe the appropriate antibiotic treatment.

Be sure to take the complete course of antibiotics and do not stop taking them once you feel relief from the symptoms. The full prescription is needed to ensure all of the bacteria are eliminated.

An additional urine test may be ordered about a week after completing treatment to be sure the infection is gone.

Self-Care for Bladder Infection

You will need antibiotics to stop the bladder infection. But there are some things you can do at home for the symptoms and to help prevent bladder infections.

 An over-the-counter drug called Azo-Standard is available to relieve the pain and urinary urgency associated with your UTI. Azo-Standard does not, however, cure the underlying infection. You can also use a heating pad on your back or stomach to help relieve the pain.

Drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid (water is preferred) a day to help clear the infection and to prevent future bladder infections.

You will probably see advice to drink cranberry juice or take cranberry herbal supplements to treat a bladder infection. Unfortunately, this home cure has not been shown by research studies to stop a bladder infection. Once you feel the symptoms, you need to see a doctor for antibiotics. Cranberry has been studied as a way to prevent bladder infections. The research is not strong enough to support this, but there is some evidence that it might help.

Some doctors recommend taking 500 IU vitamin C daily as soon as you notice any signs of a UTI in order to lessen the severity of your infection. Again, this will not cure the infection, you will need antibiotics.

Be sure to read all of the patient information about the antibiotic prescribed and discuss it with your pharmacist. There may be foods or drinks that should be avoided, depending on the antibiotic.

Also, be aware that some antibiotics can reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills, so be sure to use other contraceptive methods if this is the case with your prescription.

Preventing a Bladder Infection

There are a number of things you can do to lower your chances of getting another bladder infection. You can keep bacteria flushed out of your bladder by urinating as soon as you feel the need rather than waiting. You should also drink plenty of water every day so you are urinating often enough and are not getting dehydrated.

Be sure to practice good personal hygiene, wiping from front to back after you urinate or defecate, and washing your nether regions daily.

Washing before and after sexual intercourse, or at least urinating before and after sex, may also decrease your risk of a UTI.

Consider wearing underwear with a cotton crotch, which better allows moisture to escape. Other materials can trap moisture and create a potential breeding ground for bacteria. Wear loose-fitting clothes to help air flow keep this area dry.

The use of a diaphram, unlubricated condoms, and spermicide can increase the risk of bladder infections in women. You may want to consider switching birth control methods if you have been relying on these. Some physicians prescribe an antibiotic to be taken immediately following sex for women who tend to have frequent UTIs.

While cranberry juice or cranberry supplements have not yet been shown to be effective in preventing bladder infections, you might consider using them in addition to the other prevention habits.

A Word From Verywell

You may wish you could avoid calling the doctor when you feel the symptoms of a bladder infection, but swiftly getting an antibiotic prescription is the only sure way to cure it. Use the self-care tips to help clear the infection and prevent a recurrence.

Sources:

Bladder Infections (Urinary Tract Infection—UTI) in Adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-infection-uti-in-adults.

Cranberry. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/cranberry.

Hooten TM. Patient Education: Urinary Tract Infections in Adolescents and Adults (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/urinary-tract-infections-in-adolescents-and-adults-beyond-the-basics.

Jepson RG, Williams G, Craig JC. Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 10. Art. No.: CD001321. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001321.pub5.

Wang CH, Fang CC, Chen NC, et al. Cranberry-Containing Products for Prevention of Urinary Tract Infections in Susceptible Populations: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2012;172(13):988-996.