Urinary tract infections, sometimes referred to as UTIs, are very common.
UTIs can cause discomfort and pain. Most urinary tract infections clear up on their own within four to five days, but some may require a doctor to prescribe a course of antibiotics.
In rare cases, a UTI can lead to complications, including kidney failure or blood poisoning.
Half of all women in the UK are thought to get at least one UTI during their life.
What causes UTIs in women
UTIs are a key reason we’re often told to wipe from front to back after using the toilet. That’s because the urethra (the tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body) is located just in front of the anus. Bacteria from the large intestine, such as E. coli, are in the perfect position to escape from the anus and invade the urethra.
From there, they can travel up to the bladder, and if the infection isn’t treated, continue on to infect the kidneys. Infection of the bladder is the commonest cause of cystitis – inflammation of the bladder. Women may be especially prone to UTIs because they have a shorter urethra, which allow bacteria quick access to the bladder. Having sex can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract, too.
Symptoms of UTIs
To identify a UTI, keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
*A burning feeling when you urinate
*A frequent or intense urge to urinate, even though little comes out when you do
*Pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen
*Cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange-smelling urine
*Feeling tired or shaky
*Fever or chills (a sign the infection may have reached your kidneys)
Seeking medical advice for UTIs
Although most UTIs clear up on their own, seek medical advice if the symptoms are very uncomfortable or last longer than five days.
A urinary tract infection may also need medical attention if there’s also a fever or a sudden worsening of symptoms.
Women who are pregnant or who have diabetes who get a UTI should also seek medical advice.
A doctor or nurse will carry out a urine test to check for bacteria before recommending antibiotics.
If further specialist testing is thought to be necessary, an intravenous urogram or IVU may be arranged to check the urinary tract.
Another option is a cystoscopy, in which a thin, bendy tube is used to look inside your bladder.
Treatment for UTIs
As well as prescribing antibiotics, a doctor will probably recommend drinking plenty of water to help relieve symptoms and avoid dehydration.
Methenamine hippurate is an alternative treatment for women who cannot have antibiotics. This treatment helps stop bacteria affecting the urine.
Paracetamol may be recommended for UTI pain.
In more serious cases, admission to hospital may be necessary. Here, antibiotics may be given through an IV drip.
About one in five women experience a second urinary tract infection, while some suffer UTIs more frequently. In most cases, the culprit is a different type or strain of bacteria. However, some types can invade the body’s cells and form a community resistant against antibiotics and the immune system. A group of these renegades can travel out of the cells, and then re-invade, ultimately establishing a colony of antibiotic-resistant bacteria primed to attack again and again. In some cases of what seems to be chronic urinary tract infection or chronic cystitis, there is no evidence of bacteria. This condition is known as Interstitial Cystitis and, while infection can’t be pinpointed, tiny ulcers and haemorrhages can be found inside the bladder of 90% of those affected.
Some women are genetically predisposed to UTIs, while others have abnormalities in the structure of their urinary tract that make them more susceptible to infection. Women with diabetes may be at higher risk, as well, because their compromised immune systems make them less able to fight off infections like UTIs. Other conditions that increase risk include pregnancy, multiple sclerosis, and anything that affects urine flow, such as kidney stones, stroke and spinal cord injury.
You can help to prevent getting another UTI with the following tips:
*Empty your bladder frequently as soon as you feel the need to go; don’t rush, and be sure you’ve emptied your bladder completely.
*Wipe the bottom from front to back.
*Drink lots of water.
*Choose showers instead of baths.
*Stay away from feminine hygiene sprays and scented bath products — they’ll only increase irritation.
*Clean the genital area before sex.
*Urinate after sex to flush away any bacteria that may have entered your urethra.
*If you use a diaphragm, unlubricated condoms, or spermicidal jelly for birth control, consider switching to another method. Diaphragms can increase bacteria growth so remember to keep it clean, while unlubricated condoms and spermicides can cause irritation. All can make UTI symptoms more likely.
*Keep your genital area dry by wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes. Avoid tight jeans and nylon underwear — they can trap moisture, creating the perfect environment for bacteria growth.
*Drinking cranberry juice or taking higher-strength cranberry capsules may help to prevent recurring UTIs. This shouldn’t be taken by women taking the blood thinning medicine warfarin.