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Too Many Bladder Infections
October 2000

Q. I have been on an oral contraceptive for a year and I am sexually active with one person. I have been getting reoccurring bladder infections every 2 to 3 weeks since May. Before then, I had a bladder infection every couple of months. Now I am going crazy... my medication has been doubled, I have taken ALL hygienic precautions, and now I am simply fed up. I WANT to find out if there is any proven correlation between the bladder infections and the pill? What else could be causing this?

A. Hi there. This is a fairly common problem, especially among women, and very frustrating as you have expressed. Nearly 50 percent of all women will experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) during their lifetimes, and a certain number of these women will experience it frequently, usually defined as 3 or more infections in a year.

In the majority of cases, a UTI can be treated with a brief course of antibiotics and all is resolved. If symptoms fail to clear up after treatment, a urine culture should be done to identify the bacteria involved and test it against various antibiotics to select the best treatment. In your case, doing a culture test after treatment would be wise to assure that the infection is gone.

You are quite right to wonder about your susceptibility to frequent infection. The birth control pill has not been found guilty in this case. Studies have shown that use of a spermicide, a diaphragm plus spermicide, and frequency of intercourse all can increase the risk of UTI. You may need further studies to evaluate the urinary tract anatomy such as an x-ray study of the kidneys, and studies of bladder function to see if anything anatomical needs attention. Some women have all such studies turn out normal, and are thought to have genetic factors that make them more susceptible. In those cases, a longer course of treatment with low dose antibiotics can sometimes interrupt the cycle of frequent infections. Your doctor can certainly order the right tests and determine which of these ideas might prove helpful in your case.

HELPFUL WEBSITES:

http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health/urolog/pubs/utiadult/utiadult.htm

http://www.mayohealth.org/mayo/9605/htm/uti.htm

MEDICAL REFERENCES (usually available through the library of your local hospital):

Stapleton A, Stamm WE.
Prevention of urinary tract infection.
Infect Dis Clin North Am. 1997 Sep;11(3):719-33.

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