WHAT ARE Urinary Tract Infections?

Lower urinary tract infections (often called a UTI) are very common, especially in women. 

If you're a woman, your chance of getting a urinary tract infection (or UTI) is high. Your lifetime risk of getting one is as high as 50%, with many women having repeat infections, sometimes for years on end.Here's how to handle UTIs, whether you're experiencing your first or fifth infection, and how to make it less likely you'll get one in the first place.

What is a Urinary Tract? 

Your urinary tract includes your bladder, kidneys, ureters (tubes that go from your kidneys to your bladder), and urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body from your bladder). It’s your body's drainage system for removing wastes and extra water.

If you have a UTI in your kidneys, doctors call it pyelonephritis. If it’s in your bladder, the medical term is cystitis.

What Causes UTIs in Women?

UTIs are a key reason we're told to wipe from front to back after going to the toilet. That's because the urethra - the tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body - is located close to the anus. Bacteria from the large intestine, such as E. coli, are in the perfect position to escape the anus and invade the urethra. From there, they can travel up to the bladder, and if the infection isn't treated, continue on to infect the kidneys. Women may be especially prone to UTIs because they have shorter urethras, which allow bacteria quick access to the bladder. Having sex can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract too.

Symptoms of UTIs

To identify a UTI, keep an eye out for the following symptoms: 

  • A burning feeling when you urinate
  • A frequent or intense urge to urinate, even though little comes out when you do
  • Pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen
  • Cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange-smelling urine
  • Feeling tired or shaky
  • Fever or chills (a sign the infection may have reached your kidneys)

Who Gets Urinary Tract Infections?

Anyone can. But they're more likely when you:

  • Are a woman
  • Have had UTIs before
  • Have a condition that affects your bladder's nerves (including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and spinal cord injuries)
  • Have been through menopause
  • Are overweight
  • Have something that blocks the passage of urine, such as a tumour, kidney stone, or an enlarged prostate
  • Use a diaphragm or spermicide for birth control
  • Have a catheter, a tube placed into the bladder to drain urine from the bladder into a bag outside the body
  • Are a man who has sex with men, has HIV, or hasn’t been circumcised

Most of these traits also raise the odds that a simple bladder infection may become a more serious kidney infection or turn into sepsis (an infection that has gotten into your bloodstream). For pregnant women, a kidney infection can lead to delivering a baby too early.

Tests and Treatments for UTIs

If you suspect you have a urinary tract infection, you can make an appointment to see your doctor. You'll be asked to give a urine sample, which will be tested for the presence of UTI-causing bacteria. 

The treatment?

Antibiotics to kill the intruders. As always, be sure to finish off the prescribed cycle of medicine completely, even after you start to feel better. And drink lots of water to help flush the bacteria from your system. Your doctor may prescribe a medication to soothe the pain, and a heating pad may also be helpful.

What Antibiotics?

For non-complicated UTI’s, you will likely be prescribed trimethoprim for 3 days, or nitrofurantoin for 5 days.

How about Cranberry Juice?

Studies on the effectiveness of cranberry juice for preventing or treating UTIs have produced mixed results. The red berry contains a tannin that prevents E. coli bacteria - the most common cause of urinary tract infections - from sticking to the walls of the bladder, where they can cause infection. However, a 2012 review of 24 studies looking into the effectiveness of cranberry juice/extract on UTIs found they did not significantly reduce the incidence of UTIs.

How to Avoid UTIs?

You can:

  • Drink at least eight glasses of water a day
  • Wipe yourself from front to back when you go to the bathroom
  • Empty your bladder shortly before and after sex
  • If you need a lubricant when you have sex, choose a water-based one
  • Don't douche
  • Avoid strong feminine deodorants or soaps that cause irritation
  • Wash your genital area with warm water before sex
  • Wear cotton underwear
  • Take showers instead of baths
  • Don’t wear pants that are too tight