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Causes of Recurrent Bladder Infections

by
author image Dr. Tina M. St. John
Tina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.
Causes of Recurrent Bladder Infections
Bladder infections typically cause urinary urgency and frequency. Photo Credit George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Overview

Recurrent bladder infections, defined as three or more episodes over a 12-month period, can affect women, men and children. The most likely causes of recurrent bladder infections vary according to the patient's age, sex and other individual factors. Treatment of recurrent bladder infections proves important in reducing the risk for repeat kidney infections, potentially leading to permanent organ damage.

Sexual Contamination of the Urethra

Urinary tract infections occur most commonly in sexually active women. The urethra — the tube urine passes through during urination — occupies an area close to the vaginal opening and anus. During sexual activity, bacteria from the intestines that may reside on the female genital skin may enter the urethra and travel the short distance to the urinary bladder, causing infection.

Women who have had a bladder infection prove at increased risk of developing a second infection. Eighty percent of women who have had three bladder infections experience additional episodes, notes the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Washing the genital area and urinating before and after sex may help decrease the likelihood of developing a bladder infection, advises MedlinePlus.

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

Benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, describes the noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland that commonly occurs as men age. Overgrowth of the prostate tissue near the neck of the bladder commonly causes partial obstruction of urine flow, frequently leading to incomplete bladder emptying. The presence of residual urine in the bladder may predispose patients with BPH to recurrent bladder infections, reports The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. BPH affects more than 50 percent of men between the ages of 60 and 69 in the United States, reports the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The likelihood of BPH increases with advancing age.

Vesicoureteral Reflux

Urine flows from the kidneys through tubes called ureters to the bladder, where the fluid remains until passage from the body. A one-way valve situated where the ureter enters the bladder normally prevents urine backflow. Malformation or malfunction of the valve typically leads to urine from the bladder periodically reentering the ureter and kidney on the affected side, a condition known as vesicoureteral reflux. Primary vesicoureteral reflux refers to a valve malformation present from birth. Secondary vesicoureteral reflux develops during life, often due to obstructed urine flow, explains the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Patients with vesicoureteral reflux often experience incomplete bladder emptying. Residual urine in the bladder may lead to recurrent infections, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. A technique called double voiding — urinating and then making a second effort to urinate — may help reduce the residual volume of urine in the bladder, potentially diminishing the risk for a bladder infection.

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