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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : I just had my first bladder infection. I don’t know why. Is it possible to contract a bladder infection from drinking unsanitary water?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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January 10, 2013
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A:

No, you can’t get a bladder infection from drinking unsanitary water. This is more likely to cause an infection in your intestines. The most common symptoms would be abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

Bladder infections, on the other hand, develop when bacteria move from the skin in your genital area, up the urethra (the tube that drains urine from the bladder), and into the bladder. But certain unsanitary habits can raise your risk of a bladder infection. This could include wiping from back to front after using the toilet.

It’s more common for women to get bladder infections than men. They have shorter urethras than men. This makes it easier for bacteria to get into the bladder.

To help lower the risk of bacteria entering the urethra, women should always wipe from the front to the back after using the toilet.

Sex also increases the risk of bladder infections. That’s because bacteria can be propelled up the urethra. Urinating right after sex helps wash away bacteria from the urethra.

Also, diseases that damage the nerve supply to the bladder prevent it from emptying urine properly. Examples include nerve damage from diabetes, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis. Urine that sits for a long time in the bladder is more likely to become infected.

People that have a catheter in their bladder are also likely to develop bladder infections. Bacteria can attach to the catheter and slowly move up the catheter wall and into the bladder.

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