Dealing with a urinary tract infection is irritating, figuratively and literally. The sensations in the body, the way that a patient feels overall, the need to see a doctor, and the interruption in daily activities can really have a long-term effect on a person. The patient can fall behind at work, ignore errands and chores at home, and have trouble completing tasks because they have to deal with the symptoms of the infection.
The basics of a UTI
A UTI, or urinary tract infection, is exactly what it sounds like. When there is an overabundance of bacteria in the urinary tract that should not be there, and it starts to grow in any part of the urinary system, it turns into a UTI. The urinary tract is made up of four particular parts – the kidneys, the ureters (tubes that carry fluid and waste from the kidneys to the bladder), the bladder, and the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body). Any of these parts can become infected.
While there are other causes, the main cause of a UTI is the entrance of E. coli, a bacteria that lives in fecal matter, through the urethra. This is the same E. coli that can lead to food poisoning from beef, chicken, and pork. It also lives in the human body, and without proper precautions, can easily transfer from the anus to the urethra. Because the urethra is much closer to the anus in women, they are far more prone to UTIs than men. It doesn’t help that a woman’s urethra is much shorter than a man’s, giving bacteria a shorter distance to travel to the bladder, where UTIs are most commonly found.
Symptoms of a UTI
If the UTI is only in the urethra, it may not be symptomatic, and sometimes, this will clear up on its own. However, it doesn’t take much to start the cycle of irritation, considering how quickly parts of the tract can become inflamed.
Early symptoms include:
- Burning or pain when urinating
- Urgent, frequent need to pee, and sometimes, little production with the effort
- Pressure or pain in the abdomen, pelvis, or lower back
- Feeling like the bladder is never quite empty (constant need to pee)
- Inability to urinate, or to control urination (incontinence)
- Slow urine stream
- Smelly, cloudy, or discolored urine
- Low fever
If the infection worsens or reaches the kidneys, new and more debilitating symptoms may arise, such as:
- Extreme pain in the back and flanks
- High fever
The worst things for UTIs
When it comes to trying to clear up a UTI and ease the symptoms, there are some home remedies that can be used in conjunction with antibiotics. However, prescription medication is required to truly defeat the offensive bacteria. At the same time, there are also practices at home that should be avoided, since they will harm the body or, at the least, increase pain levels.
- Sugar. There are several problems with sugar, especially when a patient is suffering from a UTI. First, sugar is an irritant to the urinary tract, making it easier to get inflamed and cause problems in the system as the body tries to expel the excess. This is especially problematic in uncontrolled blood sugar for diabetics. In addition, sugar in the urine provides a rich source of food for bacteria, helping it proliferate in the bladder and kidneys, which is exactly what no one wants to happen. Avoiding drinks and food high in sugar – with the exception of citrus fruits that have the proper acid to help combat the bacteria – is important in clearing up the infection.
- Caffeine. Replacing a full flavor soda with a diet version or a cup of black coffee is not ideal, either. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it strips the body of too much fluid. Since dehydration leads to UTIs, further denying the body essential fluid to flush the infection out of the body by partaking in caffeinated beverages would counteract other things the patient is doing to treat the problem. Chocolate should also be avoided, since it has caffeine, and only decaf herbal teas should be consumed (no general oolong, etc.).
- Alcohol. If sugar and caffeine are bad, alcohol is worse. Most alcoholic beverages have a high sugar content, which leads back to the initial trouble with sugar. In addition, liquor is an irritant to the urinary tract like sugar, so even straight liquor with no added sugar can disturb the system. Add on top of all of this that alcohol is a diuretic – often worse than caffeine because it stops the body from producing a hormone that allows water absorption – and it’s a recipe for disaster, especially when the patient already suffers from a UTI.
- Dairy. Being cautious, there are certain dairy products that are viable during a UTI, but drinking milk can exacerbate the symptoms, especially since it can easily irritate the digestive tract, adding additional pain and inflammation to the mix. Some cheeses in small amounts, such as cream cheese or Swiss cheese, are okay to consume.
Prune and cranberry juice may help ease the pain, but really, water is the answer. Six to eight eight-ounce glasses per day is the recommended minimum, and more may be helpful to dilute the urine and help expel the bacteria faster during a UTI. In addition, eating barley and oats can help ease the pain of a UTI, since these are soothing to the bladder. Sources rich in protein are best for the diet, as opposed to a heavy carbohydrate-based diet, until the UTI clears up.