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Healthy Tips

Understanding, Preventing and Treating UTIs

How to Recognize and Manage UTI Symptoms

If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you’d probably do just about anything to avoid the agonizing burning sensation and constant need to urinate.

It is important to learn more about the ins and outs of UTIs so you can take proper steps to quickly recognize and manage the symptoms.

What causes UTIs?

Contrary to popular belief, poor hygiene, hot tubs and tampons aren’t the main culprits for UTIs. Typically, a urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria migrate from the rectum, across the vagina, and into the urethra and urinary bladder and cause an infection (cystitis). If the bacteria have very aggressive traits, they can move to the kidneys and cause a febrile UTI (pyelonephritis). This process can happen in any woman, but if the vaginal mucosa is very receptive to bacteria, UTIs will occur more easily. About 20 percent of women are genetically predisposed to have very receptive vaginal mucosa, so they will have frequent recurrent infections. In fact, one in five females will have at least one UTI in their lifetime; nearly 20 percent of women who have a UTI will have another; and 30 percent of those will have yet another, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Spermicides also make the vaginal surface more receptive, so they should be avoided, alone or with diaphragms. Post-menopausal women have a dry vaginal mucosa that increases bacterial binding and UTIs. This can be rectified by application of vaginal estrogen creams that restore the health of the vaginal mucosa and greatly reduce the chance of a UTI. Sexual intercourse will facilitate bacterial entry into the urinary tract, so it is a good idea to be well hydrated and urinate after intercourse.

How is a UTI Treated?

Most likely, you will need antibiotics as soon as possible to cure the infection and to prevent it from getting worse. Your physician will take a urinalysis to check for bacteria and blood cells. When providing a urinalysis, be sure to follow the instructions exactly to avoid contaminating your urine sample. As soon as you receive a prescription, complete the entire course of antibiotics and follow the instructions exactly as directed, even if you’re feeling better, to prevent recurring infection.

What Can I do to Manage the Symptoms?

  • Drink plenty of water to help flush out the bacteria causing the infection, and to dilute your urine to ease the burning sensation when you pee
  • Make frequent trips to the bathroom to flush your system (the extra fluids will help)
  • Consider using a different form of contraception: diaphragms and spermicidal agents can cause irritations and make it difficult to empty your bladder, creating an ideal environment for bacteria to grow
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar at optimal levels

Why do UTIs Recur?

With each infection, your chances of recurrent UTIs increases. One reason for recurring UTIs is not properly completing the course of prescribed antibiotics for the original infection. Even if your symptoms have improved, it doesn’t necessarily mean the antibiotic has killed all the bacteria. There could be some lingering bacteria that could become resistant to the medication, so don’t stop taking the antibiotic mid-course.

The main reason for recurring UTIs is increased vaginal receptivity for bacteria, either because of genetic predisposition and/or use of spermicides, or vaginal mucosa aging and lack of estrogens in post-menopausal women.

Are There Considerations for Pregnant and Older Women?

Pregnant women should have a urinalysis in the first trimester. If no bacteria are present, no further urine tests are required during the pregnancy. However, if bacteria are identified in the urine, antibiotics will be needed, even there aren’t any symptoms because asymptomatic bacteriuria in pregnancy can lead to complications for the mother or baby.

Because antibiotic use can have a bad effect on the pregnant mother or fetus, they should only be prescribed by an obstetrician. After the first infection is treated, the patient should have urinalysis every three months for the duration of the pregnancy.

Older women frequently have bacteria in their bladder that cause no symptoms or health risk. The bacteria are usually found by chance when the urine is checked for some other reason. These bacteria should never be treated because they will only return. More importantly, antibiotic use in this setting will cause the bacteria to become resistant and can cause UTI.

Does Drinking Cranberry Juice Prevent UTIs?

There is clear scientific evidence that cranberry products DO NOT prevent or treat UTIs, so save your money and do not use these products for this purpose. Other strategies for preventing UTIs include staying hydrated and urinating frequently throughout the day. Not urinating often enough can lead to more frequent UTIs. Taking vitamin C helps your urine to be more acidic, which can prevent bacteria from growing, and high-fiber carbohydrates in your diet provide good digestive health.

UTIs are common, but adding a few healthy habits to your daily routine may help you to better manage, and possibly prevent, a UTI from interfering with your life.