Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Causes and Prevention

One of the most painful and irritating experiences can be having a urinary tract infection (UTI). The urinary tract encompasses any part of your urinary system including kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. 

UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder. If it is not treated promptly, the infection can quickly spread to the kidneys and on rare occasions, the bloodstream, which can be a life-threatening situation. Understanding what to look out for, how to treat it, and how to avoid it can help prevent UTIs.

Although UTIs can sometimes be asymptomatic (no clear symptoms), symptoms often include:

  • A strong urge to urinate
  • Urinating very little, even if needing to go often
  • A burning sensation while urinating
  • Cloudy urine
  • Urine that shows signs of blood including red, hot pink or cola-colored urine
  • Strong-smelling urine.

The female anatomy is more conducive to a UTI for several reasons. First, women have a shorter urethra than men, which means bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to the bladder. Additionally, a women’s urethra is located near the rectum, increasing the chances of exposure to bacteria.

Sex can also increase the chances of UTIs. Sexually active women suffer more infections than women who are not sexually active as there is more exposure to bacteria from your partner. If you are experiencing UTIs frequently, it may be due to changes in vaginal bacteria, which can also cause bacterial vaginosis or overgrowth of bad bacteria in the vagina.
If treated properly and promptly, urinary tract infections normally aren’t prone to complications.  If left untreated, many complications are possible.  Recurrent infections can occur and permanent kidney damage from an acute chronic kidney infection can happen due to an untreated UTI.  There is an increased risk in pregnant women in delivering low birth weight or premature infants.  Sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication can also occur, especially if the infection works its way up to the kidneys.  

While UTIs can go away on their own, it is best not to take the chance that would lead to possible complications outlined above. Visit your gynecologist as soon as you suspect a UTI and they will prescribe the proper antibiotic for you.

While treating with antibiotics, it is important to stay hydrated with water and cranberry juice. If possible, cranberry juice should not contain added sugar. The acid in cranberry juice has been found to help kill bacteria in the bladder and speed up recovery.

There are a few steps you can take to prevent UTIs altogether.

  • Empty your bladder immediately after sex. This will help flush out bacteria that may have entered your urethra.
  • When wiping, make sure you wipe from front to back. This prevents bacteria from the anal region entering the urethra and vagina.
  • Avoid douches, powders, deodorant sprays, or other feminine products that are scented. The bacterial balance in the vagina is delicate, and these products can cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria.
  • If you’re prone to UTIs, consider selecting a new birth control method, forgoing spermicidal treated condoms and diaphragms that help bacteria grow.  If you experience any unusual symptoms, see your doctor to rule out a UTI.

Experiencing possible symptoms of a UTI? Schedule an appointment today.

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