Bladder infections, also called "cystitis," are very common in females because the opening from the outside of the body to inside the bladder is very short. This makes it easier for bacteria (usually the healthy E. coli which come from our rectum/stool) to get into the bladder. While most bacterial infections simply get washed out each time you urinate, the E. coli have little "Velcro-like sticky pads" on them that allow them to stick to the bladder wall — so they don't wash out.
Although bladder infections can occur without symptoms, more often they trigger an intense urge to urinate (urgency), urinating frequently (even when there is little urine), and burning on urination (called dysuria). Blood visible in the urine is less common, and warrants a trip to the doctor.
Before beginning antibiotics, it is good to have the doctor get a urine sample to do a culture to test for bacteria. Often in women with recurrent bladder symptoms (see Interstitial Cystitis) there is no infection, and the antibiotics simply make the problem worse in the long run.
In men, because the penis makes it a long trip for bacteria, bladder infections are uncommon unless there is a blockage. This usually occurs from prostate problems in men over 60 or from kidney stones in younger men. In a young man with urinary burning, prostatitis is more likely than a bladder infection. If you wake with even a drop of discharge (before you urinate) on the tip of your penis, you also need to check for sexually transmitted infections (it may not be, but have it checked). If you have the symptoms of urinary urgency and burning and the doctor can't figure out what it is, see Pelvic Pain, Males.
Consider seeing your doctor for a urine culture immediately. If you have blood visible in the urine, a fever, or back pain with the infection, you must see the doctor immediately. In addition, here are natural treatments you can do for bladder infections (if the symptoms are not resolving by 24 hours into treatment, see your practitioner):
General Diet Advice
Drink plenty of water to wash out the infection.
Take the supplement D-Mannose. If prone to bladder problems, this is a good supplement to keep in your medicine cabinet. It is a healthy sugar which is excreted in the urine. It coats the "Velcro-like sticky fingers" of the E. coli bacteria so that they can't stick to the bladder. Then the bacteria wash right out when you urinate! The dose is 1 teaspoon each 3 hours while awake till the infection is gone (use 1/2 dose in children 5 years old and younger and it is OK in pregnancy and diabetics). To prevent recurrent bladder infections, take 1/2-1 teaspoon 2x day (especially after sex). Higher dosing can be used if needed and it can safely be used long term. It has no effect on healthy bacteria, and therefore has none of the toxicity of antibiotics.
Add vitamin C 500 mg 2-6x during the day.
Treating Recurrent Infections
Verify the Bacterial Infection
Check repeat urine cultures to confirm the symptoms are actually from a bacterial infection.
The bacteria come from the anal area, so when you wipe after a bowel movement, wipe in a direction toward your back and away from the bladder. Otherwise, you're offering the bacteria a free ride to your bladder.