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Bladder and 'Yeast' Infections: Prevention and Cure

Susan W. Ryan, DO


Many women suffer from the discomfort of urinary tract infections (UTIs, also called bladder infections) and vaginal infections (some of which are referred to as yeast infections). Relief can come from understanding the cause of these infections, how to avoid them, and how to treat them.

Urinary Tract Infections

If you have ever suffered through a UTI, you are not alone: One out of every five women has one at least once in her lifetime. There are a number of signs and symptoms that can tell you if a trip to the doctor is necessary. The most common signs are a burning sensation when you urinate or a feeling that you have to urinate more frequently and with more urgency. Your doctor can test your urine and, if you do have an infection, prescribe the best treatment. If your symptoms are accompanied by fever and chills, nausea, vomiting, or blood in the urine, you should seek medical care right away.

Once you've had a urinary tract infection, you may be at risk for repeat infections. But a number of steps can decrease the risk.

  • After urinating, wipe from front to back. This will wipe bacteria (which are normally present) away from the outlet of the bladder.
  • If you are sexually active, urinate both before and after intercourse. This decreases the number of bacteria that will find their way into the bladder during intercourse.
  • If you use a diaphragm for birth control, you may want to consider another method. Diaphragms have been shown to contribute to recurrent bladder infections.
  • If you like cranberry juice, try drinking some. It changes the acidity of urine, which may prevent bacteria from attaching to the bladder wall. This can help reduce the number and severity of infections.
  • Always drink plenty of fluids. This helps flush bacteria out of your bladder. Remember: Dilution is the solution!

Vaginal Infections

Vaginal infections often represent a change in your body's normal balance of microorganisms. Signs of vaginitis include itching, a white cottage-cheese-like discharge, or, with some types of infection, an unpleasant-smelling, gray discharge.

Many factors can trigger vaginal infections, including oral contraceptives, estrogen replacement, pregnancy hormones, antibiotics, and chemicals in lubricants and spermicides. Eating too much sugar or artificial sweeteners may "feed" a yeast infection. Some other things you can do to minimize your risk:

  • Avoid douching frequently. While this may seem to cleanse you, it actually disrupts the normal balance of microorganisms in the vagina and promotes infections. If you are going to douche, be sure to limit it to once a week and use gentle preparations such as 1 tablespoon of vinegar mixed with 1 pint of water.
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton underwear.
  • Change out of sweaty underwear or workout clothes and wet bathing suits promptly.
  • Use sanitary napkins instead of tampons.
  • Avoid feminine sprays and powders, which may irritate sensitive vaginal tissues.

If you do happen to get a vaginal infection, you may want to try treating it at home. There are several over-the-counter medications available as well as home remedies. One type of home remedy is to mix 1 tablespoon of vinegar in 1 pint of water and douche twice a day for 2 to 3 days. Avoid intercourse when you have a vaginal infection because it may prolong your infection.

If your vaginal discharge does not respond to these simple measures or is associated with abdominal pain and cramping or fevers and chills, you should consult your doctor. Often simple office testing can pinpoint the problem and get you prompt relief.

Remember: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have health concerns, consult a physician.

Dr Ryan is in private practice at The Denver Center for Sports and Family Medicine in Denver and is a team physician for the University of Denver and USA Wrestling. She is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine.