Urinary tract infections, more commonly referred to as UTIs, can range from simply irritating to extremely painful. They can and will interrupt normal daily life and make it difficult to function at the usual pace.
What is a UTI?
UTI's are infections involving the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. They most common occur only in the bladder and urethra; namely the lower urinary tract. These infections, while painful, are not typically dangerous. Only when they spread to the kidneys are they a more serious threat to future health.
Symptoms of a UTI
The symptoms of UTIs, whether simple or recurring, are the same. They include, but are not limited to,:
- Pelvic pain
- Frequent urination with less productive results
- Cloudy, white urine
- Burning upon urination
- The frequent urgent need to urinate
- Pink, red, or dark tinged urine which depicts blood in the urine
- A strong offensive odor
What constitutes a recurring UTI? Doctors set the bar at two or more UTIs occurring within a six month time span. They should also have been documented, with cultures done each time. These infections may stem from a completely new pathogen each time or from the previous infection that never entirely cleared from the patient’s system, though it became undetectable for a short time. These are referred to as chronic UTIs.
For patients who believe they have become victims of frequent or recurring urinary tract infections, the doctor will want to establish the underlying reason for the issue.
A physician may order the following tests:
- A culture test that is obtained by the use of a catheter
- Visual exams of the bladder and urethra which are done via a cystoscopy. These are lighted telescopes.
- A CT scan (computerized tomography) of the urinary tract
Causes of UTIs
Whether the infection is a one time thing or a chronic condition it is brought on by bacteria entering the urinary tract via the urethra, settling in the bladder, and multiplying. Human bodies are designed to prevent such infections from occurring, but sometimes the protective qualities are not enough. Some risk factors apply for either the male or female gender.
- Urinary tract abnormalities which are already there at birth
- Blockages such as kidney stones, enlarged prostates (in men), and swelling
- A suppressed immune system, whether caused by nature or medication
- The necessity of using a catheter, daily for some or due to a hospital stay
- A recent urinary procedure
Then there are risk factors that are unique to the female gender:
- A woman's anatomy. The urethra of a female is shorter than that of their male counterparts, which provides bacteria with a shorter space to travel
- Sexual activity. The female anatomy is subjected to more bacteria and irritation
- Menopause. Less estrogen to circulate and give protection
- Choice of birth control. Spermicides and diaphragms can easily bring on bacterial infection
Prevention of urinary tract infections
Taking preventative measures to make it more difficult for the bacteria to win their persistent battle. Although there is no perfect or unbreechable way to conclusively guarantee that someone will never have a UTI, there are simple ways to lessen the chance.
- Drink, drink, drink! Water is the best solution and preventative measure. It will dilute and flush bacteria from the bladder before it can settle in to grow
- Empty the bladder more often. Holding in urine provides the bacteria with the time it needs to multiply.
- Wipe from front to back. Spreading bacteria from the anus to the urethra substantially adds to the risk of infection
- Women should avoid using any feminine hygiene products that cause irritation (deodorant sprays, powders, douches, etc.)
- Switch birth control methods
- Shower rather than bathe, sending bacteria down the drain instead of sitting in it.
Antibiotics in regular UTIs vs recurring UTIs
Antibiotics are the first and best form of attack against UTI's. They kill the bacteria if they are taken properly. If not taken properly or stopped before all the medication is gone, the infection may return and become a recurring issue. Such neglect can result in a more serious condition involving the kidneys or an infection of the blood.
To find the correct antibiotic your doctor will ask for a urine sample. The bacteria within it will be allowed to grow in a dish. This process is known as a culture test. The type of bacteria found will determine which antibiotic the physician prescribes. The choices are almost limitless. They include amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, fosfomycin, and nitrofuratoin. Certain bacteria will only respond to specific antibiotics, making the culture necessary.
The dosage and length of time a patient must take the antibiotic is determined by whether the infection is deemed to be complicated or uncomplicated, a rare occurrence or a chronic condition.
Uncomplicated cases are the typical infections that occur in a normal urinary tract. This means there are no underlying issues, such as blockages, narrowing of the urethra, enlarged prostate, or disease. These UTI's can be cleared by lower doses of antibiotics in a short span of time; anywhere from three days to a week typically. The doctor may also prescribe an analgesic (a pain medication) to numb your bladder and urethra and ease the burning sensation that often still occurs in the early stages of treatment.
To stop the constant reoccurrence there are other strategies that can bring relief. A doctor may decide that long term treatment will be beneficial. In that instance the physician will order low dose therapy during which the patient takes low doses of the proper antibiotic for six months up to two years. They may offer a self directed therapy, namely giving out a prescription in advance that the patient may take when the symptoms of a UTI begin or a dosage to take after having intercourse (for females). Women also can be provided with vaginal estrogen therapy if they have reached menopause.
Whether a UTI is a one time thing or recurring, it’s essential to consult a physician as soon as possible. The earlier the infection is diagnosed the less pain the patient will be forced to endure and the less complicated the condition will become.