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Urinary Tract Infection: Causes, Symptoms, and Preventive Measures

Urinary Tract Infection: Causes, Symptoms, and Preventive Measures

I was six when I had my first urinary tract infection, commonly called as UTI.

I was at school, drawing a mountain landscape for art class when I suddenly felt an inexplicably strong urge to pee. I excused myself from the activity and ran all the way to the nearest restroom. But instead of the relief I sought, I felt pain and discomfort instead. What’s worse, it became a recurring experience throughout the entire morning. I frequently felt the constant urge to pee but when I reached the toilet either little or nothing came out. I was so frustrated that I ended up crying, and my teacher had to call my mother.

We immediately went to the doctor and she advised that I take a urinalysis. After checking my results, the doctor informed us that it was a UTI. It was the first medical term that I came across with and until now, it still haunts me. The pain I felt whenever I peed was like the pits of hell resided in my urethra.

For something that affects such a tiny part of the body, UTIs can have a huge impact on the women who get them. The regular symptoms are already bad enough, but when things get worse, UTI can spread to your kidneys and cause serious consequences.

What’s UTI Anyway?

UTIs are common during pregnancy as the fetus can put pressure on the urinary tract and bladder
Photo from Freepik

According to the Urology Care Foundation, UTIs typically occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and travel to your bladder. Although the urinary system is designed to keep out bacteria, the defences sometimes fail and microscopic invaders can grow into full-blown infections in your urinary tract.

There are two kinds of urinary tract infections:

  1. Urethritis is an inflammation or irritation of the urethra
  2. Cystitis is an inflammation or irritation of the bladder

If left untreated, both can spread and cause kidney infections.

Urinary tract infections affect millions of people every year, with women more likely to get them than men. Women tend to get UTIs more often because women’s urethras are shorter than men’s. Since bacteria have a shorter distance to travel in women’s urethras, they can reach the bladder more easily.

The Causes and Symptoms

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

It’s pretty easy to get a UTI. People of any age can develop one, with some more at risk than others.

For instance, it can happen during sexual intercourse when bacteria from your partner’s fingers, genitals or sex toys are pushed into your urethra. This is why sexually active women are more prone to getting the infection than women who aren’t active. Having frequently new sexual partners also increases the risk.

Other risk factors for UTI include:

  • Poor personal hygiene – Increases the chance for bacteria to grow in the urethra
  • Heavy use of antibiotics – Disrupts the natural flora of the urinary tract
  • Blockages in the urinary tract – Kidney stones can block urine from getting released, increasing the risk of infection.
  • Urinary tract abnormalities – Babies born with abnormalities in their urinary tracts are at greater risk. This is because their system causes urine to back up in the urethra or it doesn’t allow urine to leave the body normally.
  • A suppressed immune system – Diabetes and other diseases that weaken the immune system can increase the risk of UTIs.
  • A recent urinary procedure – Any urinary tract exam or surgery that involves medical instruments increases your risk of getting a UTI.

Common symptoms of UTI include:

  • A strong and persistent urge to urinate
  • Frequent and small amounts of urine
  • A painful burning sensation whenever you urinate
  • Urine that appears cloudy
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Urine that’s red or bright pink in colour – this is usually a sign of blood
  • Pain in your abdominal area, below the ribs or near your back
  • Fever
A urinalysis with positive tests for leukocyte esterase, nitrites, and bacteria is highly suggestive of a UTI
Photo from Freepik

If you suspect that you have a UTI based on your symptoms, schedule an appointment with a doctor. To confirm a UTI diagnosis, a doctor will ask about your symptoms and start the diagnosis with a urine test. The urinalysis will check your urine sample for bacteria, white blood cells, and blood. A large number of white blood cells can indicate an infection.

Your doctor might also do a urine culture to test for fungi or bacteria. The culture will help identify the cause of the infection and help your doctor choose the best treatment for you.

Home Remedies for UTI

UTIs are generally treated with antibiotics, but you can also help lessen the pain and discomfort at home. Here are some remedies you can easily do by yourself:

1. Drink plenty of water

According to experts, drinking more water will help women avoid UTIs. This is because regular urination helps flushes bacteria from the urinary tract, putting you on the right track to recovery. Drinking water will dilute your urine and ensure that you urinate more frequently.

2. Avoid bladder irritants

Irritating beverages include alcoholic and caffeinated drinks such as beer, wine, coffee and tea. These liquids can build up in your urine and make urinating much more painful when you have an infection. You should also avoid spicy food, nicotine, and artificial sweeteners. Focus on food that is rich in high-fiber carbohydrates like oatmeal.

3. Try a heating pad

That heating pad you sometimes use for your horrible menstrual cramps? You can use it to alleviate the pain and discomfort of a UTI. A low level of heat will help ease any abdominal cramps or pain.

A heating pad will help soothe the area. Limit your use to 15 minutes at a time to avoid burns
(Photo from Freepik)

4. Take over the counter pain medications

Many women take OTC medication for UTI treatment. But remember, the medication won’t cure your UTI. It will only help relieve some of your symptoms.

5. Keep making those bathroom runs

See Also

Pee if you must. Each time you empty your bladder, no matter how small the amount, you rid it of the bacteria that’s causing the UTI.

Can UTIs Go Away on Their Own?

Bladder infections such as UTIs can get better on their own, but most of the time they don’t. It’s important to consult your doctor so that they can prescribe you with the appropriate antibiotics. If your UTI is left untreated, it can become a kidney infection which is much more critical as the infection can travel to the blood stream.

If you don’t want to risk getting a UTI, here some proactive measures you can take to fight it off:

1. Practice healthy hygienic habits

To prevent UTIs, start with practicing good hygiene and bathroom habits. Don’t hold your urine for too long as this can lead to bacteria build-up. Pee after sexual intercourse and each time you use the toilet, wipe your privates from front to back. Wiping from back to front can cause bacteria to spread to your urinary tract.

2. Drink cranberry juice

Unsweetened cranberry juice is one of the most popular drinks to remedy UTIs. It’s known to prevent bacteria from going to the urinary tract, helping reduce the risk of infection. Keep in mind that this does not apply to the sweetened commercial brands, only to unsweetened cranberry juice.

Researchers claim that cranberries make it hard for bacteria to stick to the urinary tract walls
(Photo from Freepik)

3. Take probiotics

Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms consumed through supplements or food such as kimchi and Yakult. The use of probiotics has been linked to enhancing immune function and improving digestive health but some studies also show that probiotics can decrease the risk of UTIs.

4. Increase Vitamin C intake

Vitamin C is known to increase urine’s acidity, killing off bacteria that can cause infection. Fruits, vegetables are especially rich in Vitamin C, and consuming them is a good way to increase your intake. Oranges, red peppers, kiwifruit and grapefruit all contain the recommended Vitamin C amount per serving.

Urinary tract infections are common problems for women and they can be frustrating to deal with. However, they’re more than just inconveniences. They can turn into serious kidney infections when left untreated. If you experience any of the symptoms, call your health care provider right away. Most UTIs can be treated with antibiotics, and the sooner you get treatment, the better.

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