Bladder infections are one of those pesky little issues that plague women more than men. About 20% of women will get a bladder infection in their lifetimes. Considering how easily they can be treated, that number doesn’t sound outrageous. But when they come back, it can get a lot worse. Nearly 20%of women who have a UTI will have another, and 30% of those will have one again. Of the last group, 80% will have recurrences.
I’m in that last group and have had chronic bladder infections for almost a decade. Little did I know when I woke up one morning a few years with a subtle pain in my lower abdomen that first time that the pain would intensify and plague me for years. I spent countless hours researching and seeing doctors to find a cure. And despite all the rounds of antibiotics they put me on, it wasn’t until I saw an acupuncturist that things really started to get better.
The first time it happened, I thought that maybe it was just a passing cramp, since it was that time of the month, but as the day went on it stopped being subtle and started to pulsate. Then it started to hurt when I peed. I had felt this once before and I knew the symptoms probably meant it was a bladder infection.
I quickly booked an appointment with my doctor and she confirmed my speculations.
She then promptly prescribed me a course of ciproflaxin—a strong antibiotic often prescribed for bladder infections. I started taking cipro that day and gradually, the pain subsided. By the end of the week I felt back to the old me and I went on with my life, going out with friends, going to work and not worrying about my health. But a month later, that familiar twinge in my bladder came back. How could this be possible? I literally just had a bladder infection. I went back to the doctor and she nonchalantly said sometimes this happens and it’s nothing to worry while prescribing me another course of antibiotics.
I hated taking the antibiotics. They made me feel exhausted and nauseous and like a rundown mess. And the second time around, the infection didn’t seem to subside. The pain was still there a week later, and even two weeks later. I went back to the doctor and ultimately went to a urologist who did a series of tests and couldn’t find anything wrong with me. But I was about to travel around Asia for four months and the last thing I wanted was to be dealing with a chronic bladder infection while carrying around a heavy backpack. I started to get worried. Especially since there was no explanation given to me other than “sometimes some women are more prone to these.”
The urologist prescribed me with an antibiotic to take daily as a preventative and some to take with me in case it flared up again. The antibiotics worked for a while and I went on my backpacking trip virtually bladder infection free. I thought that I had finally found a solution to the issue that had been paining me for months.
After I got back from my trip, I decided to move to London for grad school, hoping that my ailments would not return in the foreign country. When I got there, the stress of graduate school helped my bladder infections flare up again. The daily antibiotics the urologist in California prescribed were no longer working and I went to the doctor in London, who indifferently gave me more antibiotics. It worried me that all the doctors I had met were feeding me antibiotics like they were Skittles without even really trying to find the root cause of my issue. It was just antibiotics on top of antibiotics, and this time, nothing worked. I was in pain almost daily for months and I was starting to get desperate.
A part of me worried that I would have to deal with this everyday for the rest of my life and just learn to live with the pain. One day I was complaining on the phone to my friend Jenna, an acupuncturist, and she suggested that I try acupuncture for my bladder infections. I decided it was worth a shot—at that point I was so desperate I would have tried anything.
I found Richard, a local acupuncturist in London, who informed me that antibiotics were wreaking havoc on my body and could even be the reason why I was still getting these infections. The antibiotics were eating up all the good bacteria in my body and he told me he believed that natural Chinese herbs and acupuncture could really help me.
I started to see Richard weekly and he explained to me how acupuncture corrects imbalances by stimulating different points on the body. While stimulating these points with needles, it helps the body’s energy, or qi, to flow smoothly and balance. Each point is for a different part of the body and the treatment is tailored for each individual’s needs or conditions. He explained to me that I had a qi weakness or energy weakness and a qi stagnation and too much heat in my body. I didn’t really understand the physicalities of it, but after my first session the pressure in my bladder felt better and the pain had subsided. He also prescribed me a concoction of all natural Chinese herbs that tasted like tar smells.
Despite the bad tasting herbs, after a month, I really started to see an improvement and after that the bladder infections went from chronic to infrequent. For almost a year prior I was taking unnecessary antibiotics that made me feel sick and did nothing for my infections. Acupuncture was a natural, healing way to deal with the issue and it really did change my life. I still get the occasional infection but with acupuncture treatments and herbs, they are nowhere near chronic. Because of acupuncture I have been able to go back to living my life normally. Where day-to-day things used to be difficult to endure because of the chronic pain, now I can take them on headfirst.