A urinary tract infection or UTI is a bacterial infection that occurs when bacteria invade the urinary tract system; the bacteria multiply throughout the urinary track system. While the majority of urinary tract infections or UTIs are not serious, they often cause severe symptoms such as pain and/or burning upon urination. The urinary tract system is the body’s filtering system for removal of liquid waste. The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, bladder, ureters and urethra.
About half of all women will have at least one UTI in her lifetime, while many women suffer through several infections throughout their lifetime. Women are particularly susceptible to urinary tract infections or UTI. This is because women have a shorter urinary tract than men. The good news is that these infections are easily treated with antibiotics. However, some women seem prone to recurrent UTIs than others and for them it can be a frustrating battle.
What Causes Urinary Tract Infections?
The most common cause of UTIs is bacteria from the bowel that live on the skin near the rectum or in the vagina, which can spread and enter the urinary tract through the urethra. Once these bacteria enter the urethra, they travel upward, causing infection in the bladder and sometimes other parts of the urinary tract.
Sexual intercourse is a common cause of urinary tract infections because the female anatomy can make women more prone to urinary tract infections. During sexual activity, bacteria in the vaginal area are sometimes massaged into the urethra. Women who change sexual partners or begin having sexual intercourse more frequently may experience bladder or urinary tract infections more often than women who are celibate or in monogamous relationships. Although it is rare, some women get a urinary tract infection every time they have sex.
Another cause of bladder infections or UTI is waiting too long to urinate. The bladder is a muscle that stretches to hold urine and contracts when the urine is released. Waiting too long past the time you first feel the need to urinate can cause the bladder to stretch beyond its capacity. Over time, this can weaken the bladder muscle. When the bladder is weakened, it may not empty completely and some urine is left in the bladder. This may increase the risk of urinary tract infections or bladder infections. Other factors that also may increase a woman’s risk of developing UTI include pregnancy, having urinary tract infections as a child, menopause, or diabetes.
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections
Symptoms of UTI or bladder infection are not easy to miss and include a strong urge to urinate that cannot be delayed, which is followed by a sharp pain or burning sensation in the urethra when the urine is released. Most often very little urine is released and the urine that is released may be tinged with blood. The urge to urinate recurs quickly and soreness may occur in the lower abdomen, back, or sides.
This cycle may repeat itself frequently during the day or night–most people urinate about six times a day, when the need to urinate occurs more often a bladder infection should be suspected. When bacteria enter the ureters and spread to the kidneys, symptoms such as back pain, chills, fever, nausea, and vomiting may occur, as well as the previous symptoms of lower urinary tract infection. Proper diagnosis is vital since these symptoms also can be caused by other problems such as vaginal infections or vulva. Only your physician can make the distinction and make a correct diagnosis.
How is a Diagnosis of UTI Made?
The number of bacteria and white blood cells in a urine sample is the basis for diagnosing urinary tract infections. Urine is examined under a microscope and cultured in a substance that promotes the growth of bacteria. A pelvic exam also may be necessary. If you have recurrent UTIs and bladder infections, you may be interested in purchasing an at-home test for UTI, which is available over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription. The test consists of a dipstick that changes color when you have a urinary tract infection. The test detects the presence of nitrite. Bacteria changes normal nitrates in the urine to nitrite. The test, which works best on first morning urine, is about 90% reliable.
What is the Treatment for Urinary Tract Infections?
Antibiotics (medications that kill bacteria) are the usual treatment for bladder infections and other urinary tract infections. It’s important that all antibiotics are taken as prescribed. Antibiotics should not be discontinued before the full course of antibiotic treatment is complete. Symptoms may disappear soon after beginning antibiotic treatment. However, if antibiotics are stopped early, the infection may still be present and recur. An additional urine test may be ordered about a week after completing treatment to be sure the infection is cured.
Tips for Preventing Urinary Tract Infections
The most important tip to prevent urinary tract infections, bladder infections, and kidney infections is to practice good personal hygiene. Always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement or urination, and wash the skin around and between the rectum and vagina daily.
- Drinking plenty of fluids (water) each day will help flush bacterium out of the urinary system.
- Emptying the bladder as soon as the urge to urinate occurs also may help decrease the risk of bladder infection or UTI.
- Urinating before and after sex can flush out any bacteria that may enter the urethra during sexual intercourse.
- Vitamin C makes the urine acidic and helps to reduce the number of potentially harmful bacteria in the urinary tract system.
- Cranberry juice is often said to reduce frequency of bladder infections, though it should not be considered an actual treatment. Cranberry supplements are available over-the-counter and many women find they work when an UTI has occurred; however, a physician’s diagnosis is still necessary even if cranberry juice or related herbals reduce pain or symptoms.
- If you experience frequent urinary tract infections changing sexual positions that cause less friction on the urethra may help. Some physicians prescribe an antibiotic to be taken immediately following sex for women who tend to have frequent UTIs.