One of the most common medical problems women face is a bacterial urinary tract infection (UTI) known as cystitis that can cause an urgent need go to the bathroom, a burning sensation, and the inability to actually relieve the pressure. There are up to 11 million cases diagnosed every year in the United States alone, and even though it's easily cured with antibiotics, too many women don't get treatment. "Women who have a really bad infection and delay treatment—or only partially complete therapy—risk persistent symptoms, reinfection, or much longer, chronic syndromes," says Roger Dmochowski, MD, professor of urology at Vanderbilt University and member of the American Urological Association.
One potential problem may be interstitial cystitis (IC; it's also called painful bladder syndrome), a chronic, incurable condition with, in some cases, daily symptoms. Researchers at the University of Maryland found that 18 to 36 percent of 313 women had bacterial cystitis infections the day their IC began. The link has yet to be firmly established, says John W. Warren, MD, the study's leader. "But the results make us think that in a minority of patients, the disease might be triggered by a urinary tract infection," he says.
Thankfully, IC is rare: only 700,000 to a million cases in the United States. And while it's unclear whether treating cystitis will protect you from IC, the possibility of a link should motivate women to seek proper medical care, says Dmochowski.
Besides the above symptoms, signs that it's time to schedule an appointment with your doctor include frequent urination, cloudy or strong-smelling urine, a feeling of pressure in the lower abdomen, and a low-grade fever. For frequent sufferers, there may be hope on the horizon: Scientists are in the process of developing a vaccine for those prone to UTIs, though it could still be several years away.