Bladder infections can be an excruciating condition, and even worse, they can turn into a recurrence. Those prone to these infections often report a need to “go” with increased frequency and urgency. The last place we want to be chained to is our toilet.
These two related conditions are caused by an abnormal immune response in which repairing tissue in the bladder is prioritized over clearing out the bacteria, according to a new study led by Duke Health researchers.
How our immune system responds to UTIs
Duke Health researchers infected mouse bladders with E. coli, the most common bacteria that cause UTIs, to study the immune response. Most bladder infecting causing bacteria originate from the gut and reach the urinary tract by the process of progressive colonization via the perineal region. In other words, the bacteria are coming from your poop. If you’re wiping back to front, that’s a pretty easy way to give yourself a UTI.
“Uropathogens express certain key virulence factors that enable them to successfully establish infection in the urinary tract; these include adhesive fimbriae, which enable bacteria to adhere avidly to specific receptors on the urothelium, and flagella that enable bacteria to swim along the urinary tract including ‘upstream’ from the bladder to the kidneys.” These bacteria have a lot going for them when it comes to being successful in causing an infection. They are able to swiftly move upstream from your bladder to your kidneys—this is bad news, you do not want your infection to progress this far!—and have the ability to stick to the bladder lining.
What’s most interesting is that throughout the body, immune responses to infections are generally balanced between clearance and tissue repair. This is not so in the bladder, however, as it prioritizes tissue repair. This tendency increases which each consecutive infection. This means with each UTI you experience, your bladder is pushing tissue repair higher on the priority list than clearing the infection which can cause a new infection and so the cycle continues.
The nitty-gritty behind the researchers’ findings
The insights gleaned from this study are incredibly fascinating and eye-opening to the importance of bladder health. Let’s dive in.
- The bladder’s initial immune response to infection emphasizes shedding cells from internal walls to reduce bacterial load. (Large numbers of bacteria bind to bladder cell surfaces, so shedding this wall tissue is a natural immune defense.) We like to picture it as a period for your bladder—except, in this case, it’s not necessarily 100% beneficial.
- This shedding process removes the thick plaque of cells that protects the bladder walls from salts and toxins in urine. Think of this as your bladders wall of defense. Seems pretty important, right?
- Loss of this barrier exposes the underlying bladder tissue, leading to severe bladder wall damage and pain. UTIs are painful and not just when you have to go, so this key piece of information validates what UTI sufferers experience.
- The pain caused by urine-induced tissue damage is a greater immediate threat than the bacteria that persist in the bladder. That plaque of cells was your bladder’s protection against toxins and salts from urine. And now it’s gone—Ouch!
- This focus on bladder wall repair hampers complete clearing of bacteria from the bladder, leaving behind pathogens that bloom into another infection. Ever wonder why you’re getting recurring UTIs? This study has found the answer for you.
- With each recurring UTI, the researchers reported, bladder tissue repair occurs more robustly and at a faster rate, resulting in a markedly thicker bladder cell lining. It’s similar to breaking a bone. Your body doesn’t want that injury to happen again in the same place, so it rebuilds stronger as a line of defense.
- In mice that had experienced multiple UTIs, this physical change reduced bladder capacity and increased voiding frequency. (Both symptoms are common among patients who experience recurrent UTIs.) If you’ve ever felt these symptoms after your UTI cleared and were concerned you had another developing, this could be why.
A quick note about inflammation
Researchers found that a transient infection triggers a short-lived inflammatory response that rapidly eliminates the bacteria. Inflammation is actually one of your body’s defense mechanisms to protect itself. However, if the initial infection hangs around for weeks, that inflammation will do the same, which leads to long-lasting changes to the bladder that prime the immune system to overreact the next time bacteria find their way into the urinary tract, worsening the infection.
If all this information doesn’t ignite a fire inside you to prioritize your bladder health, we don’t know what will! It’s clear that prevention is key to maintaining a healthy bladder, but we also understand that prevention doesn’t work 100% of the time. In the event you experience a UTI, it’s important to treat it in a way that supports overall bladder health. This is exactly why we created Urinary Cleanse & Protect! It’s jam-packed with a full spectrum of cranberry polyphenols and our special ingredient hibiscus—which is chock-full of vitamin C for immunity and is a gentle diuretic loaded with antioxidants to help flush your system! The time to take bladder health seriously is now. Grab a bottle for yourself and a friend to take as needed or daily for prevention and join us in the healthy bladder revolution.