Cramming your shopping cart with cranberry juice or fantasizing about camping out in the loo? These are telltale signs you've joined the legions of folks, mostly women, who suffer from bladder infections.Also called cystitis, bladder infections are the most common type of urinary tract infection. Painful pressure above the public bone, burning during urination and suddenly finding yourself tackling strangers to get to the washroom, then only having a tiny trickle to show for it all, characterize this pesky condition.
Chlamydia and systemic yeast organisms like Candida albicans can be culprits. But more often than not infections are caused by unwanted bacteria.
One basic trick is to make sure to pee before and after sex to rinse away any lingering buggies. Women with recurrent problems should also think twice about using spermicides and diaphragms, as users are two to three times more likely to get repeat infections.
If you're plagued by symptoms but show no trace of infection in your urine samples, you may have anything from lower-back problems to a chronic hypersensitive bladder condition called interstitial cystitis. You should visit a urologist to be sure. If interstitial cystitis is the cause, then say goodbye to your most cherished vices, be they caffeine, alcohol or sugar (yes, even fruit sugars can be harsh irritants) and start an elimination diet to see what's really bothering you.
To avoid bladder flare-ups, remember to stay hydrated and avoid tight clothing and synthetic undies. Stay away from scented soaps whether in your bathtub or your washing machine. And while cranberry may be a trusty preventative to infection, it acidifies your urine, adding fuel to the fire when the infection is raging. To soothe any burning, try 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in a glass of water.
If you develop a fever, severe back pain or experience vomiting along with your bladder symptoms, see your doctor immediately, since these are all signs of a much more serious kidney infection. WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Cranberry can prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall. It's not the greatest if you have a full-blown raging infection. Vitamins C and A and zinc promote good immune response. Drink lots of water -- three litres a day. I would also recommend a combination of the herbs uva ursi and pipsissewa in equal parts in a tincture to be taken daily."
RUTH ANNE BARON, naturopath "The main things I would use are juniper mixed with uva ursi and a demulcent such as marsh mallow. Corn silk is a simple homemade tea for treating urinary tract infection -- drink a few cups a day. If it doesn't get better in 48 hours, then the person should go to the doctor, because it can spread to the kidneys and heart. For interstitial cystitis, see how the marsh mallow and corn silk work. Don't confuse a bladder or urinary tract infection with some of the more serious kidney diseases, because what is good treatment for a common infection might actually complicate kidney diseases."
ROGER LEWIS, herbalist"Cantharis is used when pain is worse before and after urinating rather than during. Take 30 CH every hour or two for a couple of days, then every two or three hours for another couple of days. For recurring forms of cystitis where the lower abdomen is swollen and there's an itching sensation in the bladder, take sepia, 30 CH strength, three or four doses a day for a week. Lycopodium is used when there is cramping pain and delayed urination, 12 CH dosage, five or six doses a day for a week. Sarsaparilla is used for deeply chronic cases where nothing seems to help. A 30 CH strength should be taken three or four times a day for a week."
DAVE TULBERT, director, Centre for Classical Homeopathy
"Boil fresh corn silk for 2o minutes and drink. Also drink lots of warm or hot water. Watermelon is a good diuretic and it gets things flushing through the body. The bladder is a yang organ associated with the element of water which is associated with fear. Emotional or sexual abuse can also make someone prone to bladder infections.' MARY WONG, Chinese Medicine practitioner
"The most successful product is Hylands Bladder Irritation. When you have any kind of infection, avoid sugar, stress and dairy, as they interfere with immunity. With chronic bladder infection, people should go to a medical doctor and get an ultrasound and even a scope. If the structure is sound, I look at emotional causes. Bladder infections are associated with fear, and in women with difficulties within their romantic relationship. I find this 10 times out of 10."
JULIE PEGG, naturopath "If someone has mild symptoms, then sometimes loading up on cranberry juice or the tablets and lots of water will do it. When that doesn't work, I treat uncomplicated bladder infections with antibiotics like nitrofurantoin. There's less resistance to it and it doesn't cause yeast infections. Some recommend you load up on vitamin C and cranberry pills before you have sex to make the bladder more resistant. People can also take acidophilus daily as a preventative."
MIRA BARMAN, MD