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Urinary tract infections (UTI) are not an embarrassing disease as many people think. They are very common; in fact, respiratory infections are the only infections more common than urinary tract infections.

UTIs send people to the doctor over nine and a half million times a year. Anyone can get them though women are most at risk because of their anatomy. Studies have shown that one in five women will have a UTI sometime in their life; some will have more than one, or even get them regularly. That is why we must know more about urinary tract infections in women, why they occur, and how to treat them.

Why do urinary tract infections occur?

Some doctors think we should blame UTI on that extra X chromosome. This is a tried and true answer to the question why do women get bladder infections. Actually, urinary tract infections occur more frequently in women than in men due to anatomical differences. Women have a short urethra, only one-and-a-half inches long, and the opening is close to both rectum and vagina, which makes it easier to introduce bacteria. They usually come from the rectal area during wiping or sexual intercourse, but thong underwear can also facilitate this type of infection.

How to prevent urinary tract infections?

To prevent a recurrent infection, all antibiotic courses your doctor prescribed should be finished. Drinking plenty of water also helps flush the organism. Upper urinary tract infections are more serious due to the risk of kidney scarring, and require closer follow-up, longer antibiotic courses, or even hospitalization in some cases.
To prevent UTIs, you should always urinate after intercourse, and always wipe front-to-back after bowel movement or urinating. You should also empty the bladder completely and often, wear cotton underwear, and maintain good hygiene.

Water and cranberry juice can prevent urinary tract infections. You should limit the amount of other fruit juices and milk you consume, as these can alkalinize the urine and make antibiotics less effective. You should also stay away from alcohol and caffeine because these can both dehydrate your system and cause urinary tract infections. Spermicides may change the normal vaginal flora or environment, allowing more harmful bacteria to colonize the vagina and urethra, and thus cause urinary tract infections. Spermicides may also increase your risk of contracting a STD as well.

Defining the urinary system

The urinary tract is made of four parts:

    * Kidneys - fist size organs in the middle of the back
    * Ureters - draining the urine from the kidneys.
    * Bladder - a reservoir to hold the urine until it expelled
    * Urethra - a tube leading from the bladder to the outside

Urine is normally sterile, which means it does not contain living organisms such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Infections occur when bacteria get into the system and multiply. Most infections come from one type of bacteria: Escherichia coli. When this bacteria shows up in water supplies and food. it can make people sick or even kill those with weak immune systems. A common reason for urinary tract infections are sexually transmitted diseases such as Chlamydia. Most of the time the infection begins in the urethra, and if it stays there, it is called urethritis. If it spreads up to the bladder, it is called cystitis. If the infection continues to spread, it can reach the kidneys and then it is called pyelonephritis.

Urinary tract infections in women

UTIs are much more common in women, and a woman’s chances of getting a UTI increase with menopause. The exact reasons women are more susceptible are not clear. Suspicions include a woman’s shorter urethra and the proximity of the urethra to sources of bacteria such as the vagina and the anus. It seems that if a woman has had an infection once, she is likely to have one again.

Risk factors

Any time the urinary tract is not running smooth and clear, the chances of an infection increase. A kidney stone blocking the flow of urine is a prime example of a potential UTI source. Catheters are also a common source of infections and urinary tract problems. People with diabetes may also have a higher risk of urinary tract infections. In addition, any disease that weakens the immune system can increase the risk of UTIs. Having sex may also cause urinary tract infections in women because bacteria could travel into the urethra during intercourse. Using a diaphragm can also lead to infections, because diaphragms push against the urethra and make it harder to empty the bladder completely. The urine that stays in the bladder is more likely to grow bacteria and cause an infection.

If a woman wants to prevent UTIs, she should take a single dose of antibiotic after sexual intercourse. Take a short course of 1 or 2 days antibiotics when symptoms for urinary tract infection appear. Dipsticks that change color when an infection is present are now available even without prescription. This test can detect about 90 percent of UTIs and may be useful for women who have recurrent infections. You should also urinate when you feel the need, and not resist the urge. It would also be good to take showers instead of tub baths and to cleanse the genital area before sexual intercourse. To prevent UTIs you might empty the bladder shortly before and after intercourse, and avoid using feminine hygiene sprays and scented douches, which may irritate the urethra.

Symptoms of urinary tract infections

Some people can have an infection without any overt symptoms, but most people do have symptoms when a UTI occurs. The most common symptom is pain on urination, but there are others as well:

    * frequent urge to urinate
    * tiredness
    * feeling shaky
    * a burning sensation on urination
    * urine that is milky, cloudy, bloody, or has a foul odor

If you have these symptoms, they can also indicate other problems, so you should see a doctor instead of relying on self-diagnosis. This is important because if you leave urinary tract infection untreated, it could lead to more serious problems. That is why the safest course of action is to receive appropriate treatment as soon as your test for UTI shows positive. Your doctor is the best person to test you and give you the right diagnosis and treatment.

How to treat urinary tract infections?

The best treatment for urinary tract infection is using antibiotics. The exact drug used depends on the history of the patient and the bacteria present. Over the counter analgesics or pain relievers may relieve the discomfort. However, it is important to be aware that they do not treat the infection. That is why it is important to speak carefully with your doctor about the treatment method. It is also important to understand how long you are to take the drug. Stopping too soon can result in re-infection, which is a common problem with UTIs.

UTI and cranberry juice

The relationship between UTIs and cranberry juice is well-known. Studies have shown that intake of cranberry juice reduces the occurrence of urinary tract infections by more than half. The tannins contained in cranberries and its juice interact with the hair-like protrusions on E. coli bacteria. This causes the bacteria to wash away in the urine rather than adhering to the walls of the bladder and causing infection. It would be good to ensure that you partake of real natural cranberry juice, and not a synthetic flavoring. You can even pick up cranberry supplements from a pharmacy, which could also help you prevent urinary tract infections.

Pregnancy and urinary tract infections

During pregnancy, there are normal changes in the function and anatomy of the urinary tract that include kidney enlargement. Compression of the ureters and bladder by the growing uterus is also common. During pregnancy the bladder often does not empty properly. The urine is not as acidic and it contains more sugars, protein, and hormones, so all of these factors can contribute to an increased susceptibility to urinary tract infections in pregnant women. Types of UTI in pregnancy include:

    * Asymptomatic bacteriuria - a silent infection without symptoms, often caused by bacteria present in the woman’s system before pregnancy. This type of infection occurs in about 6 percent of pregnant women, and may lead to pyelonephritis if left untreated.
    * Acute urethritis or cystitis – a urethral or bladder infection that causes symptoms including pain or burning with urination, frequent urination, and fever.
    * Pyelonephritis - a kidney infection with symptoms such as those of acute cystitis, plus flank back pain. This condition may lead to preterm labor, severe infection, and adult respiratory distress syndrome.

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnosis of UTI is possible to conclude by urine and culture testing for bacteria. Most women should have a test at the first prenatal visit, and during pregnancy if needed. However, women with pyelonephritis in pregnancy often need to stay in hospital to receive intravenous antibiotics.