Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria getting into the urinary tract and growing. The bacteria most often to blame is E coli, which comes from a person’s bowels through the anus and reaches into the urethra where it can travel to the bladder or even the kidneys. A female is more apt to get such an infection due to the close proximity of her anus and urethra, and the shortness of her urethra compared to a male.
Can I skip the antibiotics?
It is possible for a urinary tract infection to get better without antibiotic treatment, but that is not the standard outcome. Antibiotics are recommended by doctors because the UTI can spread throughout the body quickly, reaching the kidneys or even the blood. If it reaches the blood this is known as sepsis. It can have dire consequences, including death.
Only those with minor, uncomplicated urinary tract infections are candidates for self-treatment. If an individual’s infection is more complicated, showing changes in the urethra, problems in other organs such as a swollen prostate, reduced urine flow, contains bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, or the individual has conditions that affect their immune system (HIV, cardiac disease, lupus); then they must be treated with antibiotics.
Many prefer to skip taking antibiotics due to the side effects that may develop. These include:
- Allergic reactions
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abnormal liver function
Others prefer to skip treatment because antibiotics may destroy some of the good bacteria in their systems along with the bad. This makes it easier for other infections to pop up. If a patient uses antibiotics often, there is also the possibility that they may develop strains of bacteria that are resistant to treatment.
How to self-treat a UTI
Self-treatment and prevention of a urinary tract infection follow the same regime. The list below are options for a determined individual to try, but they are by no means a guarantee of a cure or of even preventing a simple infection of the urinary tract.
- Drink water to remove waste from the bladder, dilute the urine, and help the patient’s body retain its nutrients. Six to eight glasses (eight ounces each) daily is the normal recommendation.
- Take trips to the bathroom as soon as the urge arises. This can flush out bacteria before it has a chance to thrive.
- Drink cranberry juice. Not all research agrees with this suggestion. There have been mixed results using cranberry juice as a form of treatment. It is best when used as a prevention instead of a cure. It contains antioxidants that may keep E coli cells from attaching to the cells in the urinary tract.
- The use of probiotics may aid in keeping the urinary tract healthy and free from bad bacteria. Lactobacilli has been shown to produce hydrogen peroxide in the urine, which is a strong antibacterial. Probiotics may also lower the urine’s pH balance and thus make it less hospitable to bacterial invasion.
- Vitamin C is another form of antioxidant that can be taken to improve the immune system. It has been shown to react with the body’s nitrates to make nitrogen oxide. This substance can destroy bacteria.
- Wiping from front to back keeps the urethra clean and free of E coli.
- Sexual hygiene can reduce the risk of a UTI for a patient and their partner. Urinate before and after sexual encounters, use condoms, wash genitals before and after sex, wash the sex organs or change condoms before switching from anal to vaginal sex, and always check with a sex partner as to whether they have a current UTI or have a history of them.
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection
Whether you wish to treat a UTI on your own or with antibiotics, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms. They are easily recognizable.
- Burning while urinating (male and female)
- Less production of urine, but accompanied by more frequent urges to go (both sexes)
- Cloudy or white urine indicating pus (both sexes)
- Pink tinged, red, or dark urine indicating blood (male and female)
- Really strong, offensive odor in urine (both sexes)
- Incontinence or urine retention (both sexes)
- Agitation (both sexes)
- Lethargy (both sexes)
- Itching (usually female)
- Prostatitis (men only)- fever, chills, dribbling, pain between rectum and scrotum
Risk of getting a UTI
No matter how many precautions are taken, an individual has a chance to get a urinary tract infection. This condition is far more common in women than men. Fifty percent of women have had a UTI, while only three percent of men worldwide have had one. There are risk factors that make an infection more likely.
- Genetics – a family history that includes malformed urinary tracts or kidney deficiencies
- History – having had a UTI previously
- Female anatomy – the urethra is shorter than in a male giving bacterium a shorter distance to travel and the urethra is in close proximity to a female’s anus
- Intercourse – transference of bacteria from the anus to the urethra or from one partner to another
- Menopause – less estrogen to provide protection
- Obesity – more folds in the labia allowing it to trap bacteria
- Uncontrolled diabetes – excess sugar in the urine helps proliferate bacteria
If patients are experiencing fever, shivering, blood in the urine, abdominal or flank pain, or an altered mental condition then they need immediate intervention. This is an emergency and indicates the infection has traveled to the kidneys or farther. Do not try to treat this on your own.