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How do you get a bladder infection?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on Oct 11, 2023.

Official answer


Bladder infections occur when bacteria enter your urethra, which is the opening to your urinary tract where urine comes out, infect your urethra, then move into your bladder. Normally, our urine is sterile, but bacteria from our genital and bowel areas can easily find their way into the urethra. This can happen:

  • When wiping from back to front after a bowel movement, which can contaminate the urethral opening
  • During frequent sexual intercourse
  • After sexual intercourse with a new partner
  • During sexual activity during which bacteria from your partner's genitals, anus, fingers, or sex toys get pushed into your urethra
  • When using a diaphragm and a spermicide for birth control
  • With sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.

Once in the bladder, the bacteria can stick to the lining of the bladder, causing it to become inflamed, a condition known as cystitis. The bacteria can also move from the bladder into the kidneys, resulting in a kidney infection.

Several factors can increase your risk of getting a bladder infection, for example, if you:

  • Have a vulva or were born female (females have a shorter urethra which makes them more prone to UTIs)
  • Have had a bladder or kidney infection within the past 12 months
  • Have had surgery to your genital area
  • Have a urinary catheter inserted
  • Are unable to empty your bladder completely
  • Have an enlarged prostate gland that can cause the bladder to only partially empty
  • Have diabetes – changes to the immune system make a person with diabetes more vulnerable to infection
  • Were born with structural abnormalities in the urinary system, such as urinary reflux
  • Are obese
  • Have kidney stones.

What is a bladder infection or urinary tract infection (UTI)?

Any infection that affects a part of your urinary tract is known as a urinary tract infection (also called a UTI). One that only affects your bladder is a bladder infection. Doctors may narrow it down to the area that is affected, for example:

  • If your urethra (the tube where pee comes out) is affected, it is known as urethritis
  • If your bladder is affected it is known as cystitis (the most common form of UTI)
  • If your kidneys are affected it is known as pyelonephritis. This is a serious infection that can lead to kidney damage if a bladder infection is left untreated.

Related questions

How can you reduce the risk of developing a bladder infection?

There are several things you can do to minimize your risk of developing a bladder infection:

  • Wipe from front to back after having a bowel motion so your urethra is not contaminated
  • Urinate as soon as possible after sexual intercourse
  • Make sure your genital area is clean before and after sexual intercourse or activity
  • Take your medications for diabetes as directed
  • Eat a healthy diet and limiting sugar.

UTIs are not contagious nor sexually transmitted – that is you cannot catch them from another person.

What are the symptoms of a bladder infection or UTI?

The most common symptoms associated with a bladder infection or UTI include:

  • frequent urination
  • burning or pain during urination
  • feeling like you need to pee but little or no urine comes out
  • pain in the lower abdomen or above the pubic bone (in women)
  • a full feeling in the rectum (in men)
  • bloody or foul-smelling urine
  • mild fever
  • fatigue.

More serious symptoms, such as the ones listed below may indicate a kidney infection:

  • abdominal pain
  • chills
  • cloudy or bloody urine
  • high fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain in the back, just above the waist

See your doctor right away if you have any symptoms of a urinary tract infection. If you can't reach your doctor, go to an urgent care center or hospital emergency room.

  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) Planned Parenthood.
  • Urinary tract infection - causes, symptoms, treatment Southern Cross 2020

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