The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. A bacterial infection in any part is known as a urinary tract infection (UTI). They typically begin in the lower portion of the urinary tract, and tend to affect women in greater numbers than men. While many infections can require treatment with antibiotics, depending on the location and severity of the infection, there are a few steps and preventative measures that both men and women can take in order to lower the risk of developing a UTI in the first place.
First Things First – Symptoms and Risk Factors of Developing a UTI
There are a few ways that women can become susceptible to urinary tract infections. The immune system can typically fight off normal bacteria in the lower urinary tract, but sometimes bacteria travels from the urethra up to the bladder and leads to a UTI. The most common types of bacterial infections in the urinary tract result from E. Coli and bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract (GI).
The most common causes and risk factors for a urinary tract infection are:
Gender – UTIs are more common in women in part because of anatomy. The female urethra is shorter than in males, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder.
Method of birth control – Diaphragms and certain spermicidal gels can increase the risk for women
Sexual Activity – Being sexually active, a new partner, and having sex after longer periods of abstinence can increase the risk of developing a UTI
Hormone levels – A decrease in estrogen after menopause can lead to changes in the urinary tract that can increase the risk of infections
Additionally, medical conditions like urinary tract deformities and abnormalities, blockages, or procedures that involve the use of medical equipment in the urinary tract, such as diagnostic testing or a catheter, may also increase the risk of infection.
What are the Symptoms of a UTI?
The symptoms of a basic urinary tract infection include:
- Overwhelming, constant urge to urinate, followed by release of small amounts of urine
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Cloudy, dark colored (red or brown, which can indicate blood in the urine), and strong smelling urine
- Pelvic pain
Symptoms may also vary depending on where the infection is located:
- If located in the urethra (also known as urethritis, the most common form of UTI) symptoms include burning during urination, and discharge
- When located in the bladder (cystitis) – pain and pressure in the pelvis and lower abdomen, blood in urine, frequent urge to urinate, pain and discomfort during urination
- If left untreated, a bladder infection can travel to the kidneys (acute pyelonephritis). Symptoms include pain in the side and upper back, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills
How Can You Prevent a Urinary Tract Infection?
While most women are likely to suffer from a UTI at some point in time, there are practical steps anyone can take to help minimize the risk and maintain a healthy urinary tract. Following a few simple common sense guidelines on a daily basis can go a long way towards maintaining overall wellness and health.
Stay hydrated – Getting enough water every day is vital to proper kidney function, and helps to dilute the urine and flush out excess bacteria.
Skip the caffeine – Certain drinks, like caffeine, alcohol, and citrus beverages can aggravate an already sensitive bladder, making the frequent urge to urinate even worse. Limiting consumption is recommended to recover from a UTI.
Heating pad – For pain and discomfort in the pelvis and abdomen, a warm (not hot) heating pad can help to alleviate the pressure.
Alternate birth control methods – If diaphragm or spermicide use is causing an infection, speak to a urologist about effective birth control alternatives.
Hygiene – Wiping front to back after bowel movements helps to keep GI bacteria from entering the urethra in women.
Urinate after sex – Drinking a glass of water and emptying the bladder after sex helps to flush out bacteria that can lead to a UTI.
Avoid abrasive and irritating feminine hygiene products – The use of certain feminine hygiene products like sprays, powders, and douches can sometimes irritate the urethra.
Treatment options for a urinary tract infection vary according to the severity, location in the urinary tract, and individual patient. While some women may respond to mild or alternative treatments, antibiotics are often necessary to prevent a recurrence, or to keep the infection from traveling to the kidneys. In order to prevent complications and to clear all traces of infection once a UTI develops, women should seek medical attention for any symptoms that persist and do not clear up after a few days.
Female Urology Health and Treatment in Los Angeles
If you are suffering symptoms of a UTI or female incontinence, contact a board-certified urologist at the Institute for Incontinence, Vaginal Reconstruction and Women’s Health in Beverly Hills by calling 310-307-3552 to schedule a confidential appointment today.