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All urinary tract infections are painful and annoying, some more so than others. Especially when they lead to back pain.

The human body is a unique and powerful entity. It has built in safeguards against infections, even curing viral infections on its own. However, there are times when the safeguards are not enough, or some outside influence causes them to fail. At those times the body needs help to cure and defend itself.

UTIs are one of those times. After our bodies have done all they can to prevent one, and we have followed every suggestion to keep one from occurring, the pain can be suddenly upon us. Most of the time, people are able to catch the urinary tract infection in its early stages, in the urethra or bladder. When they do, it is easy to eradicate with three days of antibiotics. Watching closely for the warning signs can help catch a UTI sooner rather than later.

Early symptoms of UTI   

  • A painful burning sensation during urination
  • The sudden, urgent need to urinate
  • Cloudy, white colored urine
  • A strong foul-smelling urine

A quick trip to the doctor for a urinalysis, which is used to detect bacteria and unusual white blood cell counts, as well as whether there is blood in the urine, will suggest what antibiotic is called for and how long it should be taken. The type, strength, and length of time an antibiotic is used will be determined by the type of bacteria discovered and the severity of the infection. In the early stages the treatment is often limited to three days.

Back pain and UTIs: What's the link?

Mild back discomfort or abdominal discomfort is to be expected during a UTI. After all, the body is being bombarded with bacteria that causes inflammation in some very delicate areas; the urethra and bladder most commonly. The symptoms will ease quickly as soon as antibiotics are introduced.

That being said, in some cases the pain is more debilitating. Often, this is the first sign that the UTI has found its way deeper into the urinary system. It has most likely reached the kidneys. If a patient has thus far avoided a visit to the doctor, this is the time to give in to the pain and go for an exam. Kidney infections, while curable if treated quickly and aggressively, can lead to more significant complications. These can range from chronic UTIs to kidney damage, sepsis, and septicemia (bacteria in the blood).

Don’t panic. The doctor knows how to deal with such situations. An extended amount of time on antibiotics, seven to 14 days, will usually clear the urinary tract infection. Occasionally, intravenous antibiotics are called for, but this is only if the infection is extensive and vigilant. If that type of treatment is required, the patient will have a short hospital stay.

If the back pain starts after the UTI diagnosis and the patient is already on antibiotics, the first thing to do is call the doctor who performed the urinalysis and prescribed the medication. Sometimes a different or stronger antibiotic is necessary. The physician may ask for a return visit for another urinalysis to make certain another form of bacteria hasn’t invaded the urinary tract, or that the infection hasn’t gone from the bladder to the kidneys. The pain may turn out to be nothing more than the body’s way of dealing with the inflammation, since everyone has different levels of tolerance to pain. Either way, patients shouldn’t ignore the body’s warning. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

There are other signs that can help determine if the UTI has reached your kidneys.

  • Incontinence
  • Bloody urine
  • Lethargy
  • Retaining urine
  • Agitation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

How to ease the pain

Drink, drink, drink! Two to four quarts of water a day will help flush the bad bacteria from the body. Water is always best. While many people believe that cranberry juice is a cure for UTIs, that has been found to be a false assumption. Cranberry juice, sugarless is best, can only help prevent a urinary tract infection from starting. It makes urine more acidic, providing an environment that may keep the bad bacteria from clinging to the bladder walls where it can settle in and grow.

However, alcohol and caffeine are not recommended. These substances are irritants to the bladder. Avoid them if possible. Avoiding sugar overload and spicy food is also recommended.

Over the counter pain medications may provide some comfort. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be useful in easing discomfort. Phenazopyridine (Azo, for example) can ease the burning sensation patients have during urination. This medication may be bought over the counter, or there are some forms patients will need a prescription to obtain. Be aware that these medications will alter the color of urine output. They may stain clothing as well.

Heat is helpful. Heat can reduce the inflammation in an irritated bladder or kidneys. A heating pad or hot water bottle may be placed on the abdomen to ease cramping. Do not fall asleep while using a heating pad or allow it to stay on the skin for extended periods of time. This is asking for more trouble. A heating pad may cause burns, especially on sensitive skin, and there is always the possibility of it catching fire.

Prevention: Avoiding UTIs in the first place

The best way to avoid back pain is to simply avoid the UTI in the first place. There are precautions that can be taken. None are failsafe, but being proactive can be a great thing.

  • Drink plenty of fluid daily, two to four quarts daily. This may include no sugar added cranberry juice. Water is preferred.
  • Empty the bladder often and completely.
  • Remain mobile. Sitting for extended hours can keep the circulation slow and allow urine to sit in the bladder.
  • Wipe from front to back. Bacteria from the anus can be transported to the urethra.
  • Stay clean. Shower instead of bathing.
  • Wash before and after sexual encounters. Urinate immediately after sexual encounters as well.
  • Stay away from irritating female hygiene products. (deodorant sprays, douches, powders)

Conclusion

All urinary tract infections are painful and annoying, some more so than others. There is no way to get around it. However, while preventing them is the ideal situation, there are ways to ease the discomfort.

As with any other infection, the first step toward relief is the visit to the doctor for a urinalysis. Antibiotics are next. Then, it is up to the patient to care for their own pain. Whether the individual chooses over the counter pain medication, phenazopyridine, heat therapy, or all of these, it’s important to remember that the pain is only temporary, and it was the warning about the infection that caused further action to be taken.  

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