Many women will experience a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) at some point in their lives. In fact, it is reported that UTIs are responsible for 8.1 million visits to physicians’ offices per year. At best, UTIs are a nuisance that cause a few days of discomfort; at worst, they can lead to more serious infection when not properly treated. But, there are things you can do to identify, treat and prevent them. Here’s what you should know:
What is a UTI?
To understand a UTI, it’s important to first understand the urinary tract. Urine is made in the kidneys as they filter liquid waste from your body. The urine then travels to the bladder, where it is held until you expel it through your urethra. The components in this scenario make up your urinary tract.
When bacteria enter your urethra – through urine or other contact – and make their way to the bladder, an infection can occur. Most often, these infections are in the bladder and can easily be treated; in much rarer cases, the bacteria reach the kidneys and the infection becomes more serious. Bladder infections and kidney infections are both classified as UTIs.
How Do You Know if You Have a UTI?
Symptoms of a bladder infection include abdominal pain, a burning sensation when urinating, and/or the feeling like you have to go more frequently, even if not much is coming out. You may find you have less control over your bladder or have unpleasant-smelling urine as well. Kidney infections can include these symptoms, but are also typically accompanied by fever and back pain.
If you experience any of the symptoms above, it’s important to get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible. In order to diagnose a UTI, your physician will examine a sample of your urine for the existence of bacteria or white blood cells, which would indicate an infection.
A quick note: if you are pregnant, a UTI can be harmful to both mom and baby, so be sure to contact your physician immediately if you start experiencing symptoms.
How Do You Treat It?
Most of the time, a UTI can be treated with antibiotics and plenty of fluids. Some infections are worse than others, so the length of time you are required to take medication may vary. In more serious cases, a patient will receive intravenous antibiotics and then several weeks of oral antibiotics. No matter the amount you are prescribed, it is important to finish all of your meds or you risk a return of the infection.
How Do You Prevent It?
All people have a large amount of bacteria in their rectal area and on the skin. Because a woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s, and closer to the rectum, the chance of bacterial infection becomes greater. Sexual intercourse introduces additional bacteria to the area as well, especially if you use a diaphragm or spermicidal foam as a means of birth control.
Thankfully, simple steps like urinating after sex, regularly washing with soap and warm water, and wiping front to back when you use the restroom can keep bacteria out of your urethra. If a diaphragm or foam is your birth control method of choice, consider another option or remain vigilant about cleanliness after intercourse.
Another easy tip for UTI-prevention: stay hydrated. Ensuring your body has plenty of liquids is the key to many facets of health, and bladder infections are no different. You may have heard that regularly ingesting cranberry juice can help prevent the growth of bacteria – it doesn’t hurt, but more definitive studies are needed; and drinking cranberry juice won’t cure a UTI that already exists.
Women going through menopause face an even greater challenge. The lining in the vagina changes and the loss of estrogen both mean fewer defenses against infection. An effective way to help may be through the use of vaginal estrogen cream or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which your doctor can prescribe if it is right for you.
And finally, you should never “hold it” for longer than necessary or rush through urination. Both actions can increase your risk of UTI.