Calgary doctor answers 'burning' questions about bladder infections

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says more than 50 per cent of women will get a bladder infection during their lifetime.

Why do women get them more often than men?

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says urinary tract infections happen when bacteria from our skin crawls into the bladder. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

If it burns when you tinkle, you likely have a bladder infection.

The pain you feel is caused by irritation and inflammation, which is caused by bacteria. 

Then of course, there's that frequent urge to pee.

"Your bladder tries to tell you something is going on. But the bladder only has one button, one sort of communication route to the brain," Dr. Raj Bhardwaj told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday.

Why women?

More than 50 per cent of women will get a bladder infection in their lifetime.

Bhardwaj says it all comes down to anatomy. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen when bacteria from our skin crawls into the bladder.

"The distance from the outside world to the inside of the bladder is shorter in women than men, so the bacteria don't have as far to go before they're in a place where they can cause problems," he says.

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj is an urgent care physician and the medical contributor on CBC Radio's the Calgary Eyeopener. (@RajBhardwajMD/Twitter)

UTIs are less common in men, but not in children.

Diapers can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so parents need to be fastidious with wiping and cleaning.

The same goes for kids who have been recently toilet trained.

Bhardwaj says being sexually active increases the risk of getting a bladder infection because it moves bacteria all over the place, and you may end up with more of it on the bladder opening.


"This is one of those times when you do throw antibiotics at it," said Bhardwaj.

Bacteria can spread from the bladder to the kidneys, then to the blood — and make you quite sick

He says the vast majority of bladder infections are caused by E. coli.

"There are other treatments you can use to numb the symptoms," said Bhardwaj.

Pyridium (or phenazophyridine), which turns the patient's urine bright orange, is not easily available in Canada anymore but Bhardwaj says some pharmacists compound their own.

He says the problem with this drug is that it solves the symptoms, but doesn't treat the infection — which is why you should take it in conjunction with antibiotics.


Bhardwaj offers these tips to help reduce your chances of getting a bladder infection:

  • Drink lots of water to flush your kidneys.
  • Don't waste your money on cranberry juice. He says it's "a medical myth that just won't die."
  • Urinate regularly. Don't hold your pee for hours and hours!


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