Bladder Infection (Cystitis)
The uncomfortable and irritating symptoms of a bladder infection send American women to their doctors 6 to 9 million times every year. Most of these women will be treated with a course of antibiotics, a strategy that kills the current infection but that leaves the bladder vulnerable to a future bacterial invasion. As a result, most of the women who see a doctor about a bladder infection will return; 10 to 20 percent of all women experience a bladder infection at least once over a twelve-month period.
When the bladder is infected, usually by bacteria, its interior walls become inﬂamed. This inﬂammation, medically known as cystitis, leads to a frequent and urgent need to urinate, although the urine produced may be scanty, and the bladder may not feel completely empty. There is usually pain or burning upon urination, and there may be cramping in the abdomen or the lower back, and fever.
Women suffer from bladder infections far more frequently than men do, mainly because of the female anatomy. In women, the urethra—the tube that conducts urine away from the bladder and out of the body—is very short, and its opening is in close proximity to both the anus and the vagina. It’s relatively easy for vaginal or intestinal bacteria to travel to the opening to the urethra, make their way up the tube, and infect the bladder. Although bacteria are the cause of most infections, several other condi- tions put women at risk for this disorder. Frequent use of antibiotics is one of the most prevalent, since these medications destroy the “good” bacteria needed to ﬁght infec- tions. Anything else that weakens the immune system, such as stress or a poor diet, increases the likelihood of an infection. Pregnancy, sexual intercourse, and injury to the area are associated with a higher risk. Hormone imbalances can also contribute to an increased susceptibility. Menopause is a time when many women ﬁrst start to experience bladder infections.
Most bladder infections respond well to home care that treats the symptoms, while strengthening the immune system. You should still consult a doctor, however, as there is a possibility that the infection can spread to the kidneys. Your physician should mon- itor your progress and make sure the infection isn’t traveling upward. And if you have recurring infections, your doctor should examine you for a structural abnormality in the urethra or the bladder that prevents urine from ﬂowing properly. Should your doc- tor want to prescribe antibiotics, explain to him or her your desire for more conser- vative treatment and ask whether antibiotics are really necessary. (In some cases, they’re needed to prevent a kidney infection.) If you are a man with a bladder infec- tion, you may have a more serious condition. For more information, see the sections on prostate problems in this book.
• Pain or burning upon urination
• Frequent need to urinate
• Scanty ﬂow or dribbling
• Cramps in abdomen or lower back
• Nausea or vomiting
• Vaginal or intestinal bacteria, usu- ally E. coli
• Frequent use of antibiotics
• Poor diet and food allergies
• Sexual intercourse
• Use of a diaphragm for contraception
• Structural abnormality
• Hormonal imbalance
Make sure that you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Plan well-rounded, whole- some meals, made with basic foods that you prepare yourself.
One of the best strategies for ﬁghting a bladder infection is to increase your urine output. Drink as much clean water as you can stand. Try for one 6- to 8-ounce glass every waking hour.
Cranberry juice has long been a folk remedy for bladder infections, and now sci- ence helps us understand why: it appears that cranberry juice keeps bacteria from clinging to the linings of the bladder and the urethra. You can ﬁnd unsweetened cran- berry juice at most health food stores and many supermarkets. Drink several glasses of it a day.
Natural diuretics will help ﬂush out the infection. Eat plenty of watermelon, celery, or parsley, or use them to make fresh juices.
Add some garlic to clear soups or other meals. It’s a potent infection-ﬁghter.
If you must take antibiotics, eat a cup of unsweetened live yogurt or another cul- tured product every day. These foods help return “good” bacteria to your body.
Food to Avoid
Sugar depresses the immune system and encourages the growth of bacteria.
Avoid all reﬁned sugars (including those in alcohol) while you’re battling the infec- tion, and restrict them once you’ve recovered.
During the course of the infection, stay away from salty, spicy, processed, or reﬁned foods, as well as caffeine. All of these substances will further aggravate the problem.
Food allergies can cause recurring bladder infections. See the Food Allergies sec- tion and the accompanying elimination diet to determine whether a food is at the heart of your problem.
Many women who are frequent consumers of sodas (both sugary and diet) expe- rience recurring bladder infections. Sodas, whether made from natural or artiﬁcial sweeteners, are never a good idea; if you are troubled by bladder infections, you now have another compelling reason to avoid sodas.
A three-day juice fast is a strong weapon against recurring infections. Concentrate on vegetable juices, rather than on fruit juices, at this time, since you want to avoid too much sugar. When you drink fruit juice, dilute it with clean water.
Super Seven Prescriptions—Bladder Infection
Super Prescription #1 Uva ursi
Take a standardized capsule containing 250 mg of arbutin or 5 ml of the tincture form four times daily. Arbutin is a constituent in uva ursi that is converted in the body to a chemical called hydroquinone, which destroys bacteria.
Super Prescription #2 D-mannose
Take 500 mg four times daily. This substance prevents bacteria from being able to attach to the urinary tract and the bladder wall.
Super Prescription #3 Homeopathy
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms under Homeopathy in this sec- tion. For acute bladder infection, take a 30C potency four times daily. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consulta- tion with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Super Prescription #4 Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) and goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
Take 500 mg of the capsule form or 4 ml of the tincture four times daily. These herbs enhance immune function to combat infection.
Super Prescription #5 Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) extract
Take 400 to 500 mg twice daily of cranberry extract capsules. Cranberry prevents bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall. This herb is best used for the preven- tion of urinary tract infections but can also be used as part of a comprehensive protocol for acute infection.
Super Prescription #6 Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Take 500 mg of the capsule or 2 ml of the tincture four times daily. This herb has a long history of use for urinary tract infections.
Super Prescription #7 Vitamin C
Take 1,000 mg four to ﬁve times daily. Vitamin C enhances immune function, inhibits the growth of E. coli, and makes the urine more acidic so that bacteria can- not grow as easily.
Oregano oil (Origanum vulgare) has powerful antibacterial and antiviral effects. Take 500 mg of the capsule form four times daily or as directed on the container.
Vitamin A enhances immune function. Take 25,000 to 50,000 IU daily for one week. Do not use if you are pregnant.
Probiotic contains friendly bacteria that prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacte- ria. It is especially important to take if you are using antibiotics. Take it at a separate time during the day, and continue use for two months. Take a product containing at least 4 billion organisms daily.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. For acute bladder infection, take a 30C potency four to six times daily. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consultation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Aconitum Napellus is helpful for the very ﬁrst two hours of a bladder infection. Urination feels hot, and the person feels anxious. A fever comes on quickly.
Apis (Apis melliﬁca) is good for sharp, stinging pains that feel better with cold com- presses or cool drinks and feel worse with warm applications (such as a warm bath). There are often only small amounts of urine passed.
Belladonna (Atropa belladonna) is for burning in the urethra, with a feeling of great urgency and with bladder spasm. A high fever comes on quickly.
Cantharis is the homeopathic remedy of choice for bladder infections. Use it if you have a strong urge but produce very little urine. You may have burning and cutting
Study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that regular consumption of cranberry juice (10 ounces a day) signiﬁcantly reduced the amount of bacte- ria and pus in the urine of elderly
women. Another study found that cranberry capsule extract (400 mg twice daily) for three months signiﬁ- cantly reduced the recurrence of urinary tract infections in women ages eighteen to forty-ﬁve who had a history of reoccurring infections.
pain upon urination, as well as cramps in your abdomen and lower back. Small tinges of blood may be present.
Mercurius Corrosivus is helpful when blood and pus are in the urine. The person feels great burning pains and spasm in the bladder.
Nux Vomica (Strychnos nux vomica) helps when there is a constant urge to urinate, with only small amounts being passed. The person feels chilly and irritable. Symp- toms are better with warmth (a warm bath).
Sarsaparilla can be taken when there is burning pain at the end of urination. The person seems to urinate only when standing and not sitting.
Staphysagria is for the burning pains of a bladder infection that come on after sexual intercourse. It is also used for bladder infections that result from the use of a catheter.
Reﬂexology is helpful to prevent bladder infections, and you should see improvement after two or three treatments. For information about reﬂexology areas and how to work them, see pages 686–687.
Work the areas corresponding to the bladder, the kidneys, and the ureters.
A hot sitz bath is a comforting and powerful therapy for bladder infections. Take it once or twice a day until you are healed. Add vinegar or garlic oil for an even stronger effect.
Constitutional hydrotherapy can also be used for an acute bladder infection.
• Bergamot, chamomile, and lavender all have gentle antiseptic qualities. Use them in a sitz bath. If you prefer, a regular hot bath is still an effective delivery system for these oils.
• Tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) is a potent infection-ﬁghter that also stim- ulates the immune system. It can be irritating to some people, so add just a few drops to a bath for your ﬁrst use. If you do not have a reaction, you can add a few more.
• If you need to relieve stress, several oils can help you. See page 658 for infor- mation on oils. Here are some good ones to get you started: lavender, jasmine, rose, geranium, and bergamot.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
Stress depletes the immune system and leaves you vulnerable to recurring infections. If you need to reduce the level of stress in your life, experiment with the different tech- niques described in the Exercise and Stress Reduction chapter until you ﬁnd the ones that are best for you.
Bach Flower Remedies
Crab Apple is a good choice if bladder infections make you feel impure or unclean.
• Always empty your bladder when you feel the need. Delaying urination sets the stage for an infection.
• Empty your bladder prior to and, if possible, after sexual intercourse to reduce the likelihood of infection. It’s a good idea for women to drink a big glass of water before and after intercourse.
• After swimming, immediately change out of your wet bathing suit and into dry clothes. Damp conditions are a breeding ground for bacteria.
• If you’re prone to bladder infections, wear cotton underwear that lets the geni- tal area breathe.
• After going to the toilet, always wipe from front to back. This reduces the chances that intestinal bacteria will travel to the urethra.
• Avoid products that may irritate the urethra or the vagina. Do not use powders, sanitary napkins, or tampons that are scented.
• A hot compress is very soothing to an irritated urinary tract. Lie down some- where comfortable, and place the compress on your lower abdomen.
• For bladder infections that occur around menses or that began with menopausal changes, hormone balancing is likely the issue. See the chapters that correspond to your situation, such as PMS and Menopause.