What you need to know about urinary tract infections

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Urinary infections are very common especially if you are a woman.   The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse  estimates that one woman in five develops a UTI during her lifetime and are the second most common type of infection in the body.   Urinary tract infections or UTI's can range in severity from a mild infection localized to your bladder to a full fledged kidney infection.     If you suspect that you may have a urinary tract infection it is good idea to get treated right away so that it does not develop into something serious.

What are the signs and symptoms of a UTI?

According to the Mayo Clinic some of the symptoms may include:

  • A painful burning sensation during urination (this is often the only symptom of a UTI)
  • The need to urinate frequently but only a little urine comes out
  • Sometimes pus or blood may be present in the urine.
  • The area above the pubic bone may feel tender.
  • Your urine may have a strong smell.

If things progress to a kidney infection you may experience a fever, shaking and chills, nausea, vomiting, and flank pain.

Who is at risk for a urinary tract infection?

  • Women who have underlying defects of the urinary tract
  • Women who have diabetes or other condition which suppresses the immune system.
  • Individuals who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis.
  • Women who have a history of urinary tract infections in childhood.
  • Perimenopausal and postmenopausal women
  • Women who use spermicidal foams and jellies are more prone to getting UTI's.
  • Women who use diaphragms are also more likely to get a urinary tract infection.
  • Prolonged use of catheters in the bladder.
  • Men with an enlarged prostate gland
  • People with kidney stones

(Source:   The New Harvard Guide to Women's Health by Carlson, Eisenstat, and Ziporyn,2004)

How does a UTI happen?

You get a urinary tract infection when bacteria from the digestive tract begin to grow in the urethra and then can travel to the bladder and even to the kidneys.   The culprit is usually the bacteria called Escherichia coli (E. coli), which primarily exists in the colon.   It is theorized that more women get UTI's because structurally a woman's urethra is relatively short, giving bacteria an easier time to get in there and multiply.   Add to this, a woman's opening to her urethra is in close proximity to the anus and vagina which can be sources of bacteria.

How are Urinary Tract Infections Treated?

UTI's are most commonly treated with antibiotics such as amoxicillin (Amoxil, Trimox, Wymox), nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Furadantin), and ampicillin (Omnipen, Polycillin, Principen, Totacillin).   It used to be that the antibiotic was given for a full week to two week time period.   But after some research was done on the effectiveness of the course of antibiotics it was discovered that a lesser time period (1-5 day treatment) was just as effective as the longer course of treatment.   This shorter treatment period lessens the chance for side effects such as yeast infections.   There are some women who will develop a resistance to the usual antibiotics given and may need to take stronger antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin or norfloxacin.

If you have a simple Urinary Tract Infection which has not spread to your kidneys, you will usually feel a lot better within a couple of days of having taken your antibiotic.

What can be done to prevent UTI's from happening in the first place?

  • Emptying the bladder before and after sexual intercourse.
  • Make sure to fully empty your bladder when you urinate.
  • Change your sanitary napkin frequently when you are menstruating.
  • Wipe from front after having a bowel movement.
  • It is suggested that drinking 10 ounces of cranberry juice a day can reduce bacteria from growing in the urinary tract.
  • Drink enough water to dilute your urine making it less hospitable for bacteria to grow.
  • Take showers instead of baths.
  • Avoid douching, using scented sprays, or other possible chemical irritants which may irritate your urethra.

If you feel that you show any of the signs or symptoms of having a urinary tract infection it is strongly advised that you schedule an appointment with your medical health care provider right away.   The sooner you are treated the better so that a simple infection does not lead to a more serious kidney infection.   You know your body best.   If something doesn't feel right it is time to make an appointment with your doctor.