Anyone who’s had a urinary tract infection, a.k.a. a UTI, knows they’re a special kind of below-the-belt hell. While some people only get them once in a blue moon, other unlucky individuals seem to have a constant stockpile of pomegranate juice or supplement on-hand to deal with more frequent infections.
Half of all women will get a urinary tract infection at least once in their life. Commonly known as UTI, the condition tends to affect more women than men – five versus one male – because their shorter urethra makes it easier for bacteria from outside to reach the bladder.
It is also most frequent among women between the child-bearing ages of 18 and 55, and for pregnant women, the incidence rises to 50 per cent, said Dr Sufi Muhammad Suhail, Consultant, Department of Renal Medicine, Singapore General Hospital.
“Hormonal changes during pregnancy cause the ureters – the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder – to dilate, making them more susceptible to infection,” said Dr Sufi. At the same time, the enlarged uterus may compress the ureters, making it more difficult for urine to flow through as quickly and freely as usual.
The greater chance of women getting UTI evens out after 55 years of age between both sexes. The elderly is particularly prone to UTI because they rely on their carers to help them maintain good personal hygiene. “Many incontinent elderly are vulnerable to infection because their diapers are not changed often enough. But because of cost, the number of changes might be fewer than the required, say 5-6 times. Dirty diapers can lead to infection and sores,” said Dr Sufi.
Some elderly people may need to be fitted with urinary catheters that help their bladders empty urine into a drainage bag. The catheter can be inserted through the urethra or an opening in the abdomen, and is meant to be in place for a long period. “Care of the catheter is important. It must be changed every three months, and if any breakage or discharge from the catheter is detected, the caregiver must take immediate action to have it changed,” he said.
WHAT IS URINARY TRACT INFECTION?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system — your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Most infections involve the lower urinary tract — the bladder and the urethra. Women are at greater risk of developing a UTI than men are.
Urine is normally free from bacteria; however, the normal human body is covered with bacteria and the normal intestine (bowel) contains large numbers of harmless bacteria. The structure of the urinary system prevents urine flowing upwards from the bladder to the kidney, so most urinary tract infections are in the bladder and are not usually serious. However, if not treated, the infection may travel from the bladder up the ureters to the kidneys and cause a more serious infection which needs prompt medical attention.
Bacteria from the large intestine, such as E. coli, are in the perfect position to escape the anus and invade the urethra. Women may be especially prone to UTIs because they have shorter urethras, which allow bacteria quick access to the bladder. This usually happens when tiny or even microscopic bits of feces get into the urinary tract. Having sex can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract, too. This might happen during sex. For example, this can happen if you switch between anal and vaginal sex without cleaning in between. Anal sex increases your UTI risk significantly. Bladder infections can also develop from toilet water backsplash or by improper wiping.
Speaking of condoms, while they generally shouldn’t boost your UTI risk, ones with a certain ingredient might make you more susceptible than you’d like. Some condoms have the spermicide nonoxynol-9, which can cause small abrasions on or around the urethra. Those abrasions give the bacteria easy access to your urethra, which is how you wind up the pee pain. It’s not a reason not to use condoms, just be more careful and look at the right ingredient list.
Your urinary tract is the pathway that makes up your urinary system. It includes the following:
- Your kidneys are the organs that filter your blood and generate body waste in the form of urine.
- Your ureters are the tubes that carry urine from the kidney to the bladder.
- Your bladder is the organ that collects and stores urine.
- Your urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of your body.
Some groups are at increased risk of having urinary tract infections:
- Women are vulnerable because the urethra is only 4cm long and bacteria only have to travel this short distance from outside the body to the inside of the bladder
- People with urinary catheters, such as the critically ill, who cannot empty their own bladder
- People with diabetes have altered immune systems and are more vulnerable to infection
- Men with prostate problems, since an enlarged prostate gland can cause the bladder to only partially empty
- Babies, especially those born with congenital abnormalities of the urinary system.
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 kidney
If the UTI spreads to your kidneys, it might cause:
- a high fever (over 101°F)
- mental disorientation
There are lifestyle factors that can put you at extra risk of developing a chronic UTI. For example, using a diaphragm during sex can cause problems. Diaphragms push up against the urethra, making it harder to fully empty your bladder. The urine that doesn’t empty is more likely to grow bacteria.
Another example is constantly changing the bacterial makeup of the vagina. If you regularly use antibacterial vaginal douches, spermicides, and certain oral antibiotics, then you’re changing your vaginal bacteria regularly. This can increase your risk of developing a chronic UTI.
Menopause can cause similar problems in some women. Menopause causes hormone changes that in turn can cause changes in your vaginal bacteria. This can increase your risk of chronic UTIs.
How Is a Chronic Urinary Tract Infection Diagnosed?
If you have a chronic UTI, you probably had a UTI in the past. Performing lab tests on a sample of urine is the most common method doctors use to diagnose UTIs. A medical professional will examine the sample for signs of bacteria in the urine using a microscope.
In a urine culture test, a technician places a urine sample in a tube to encourage the growth of bacteria. After one to three days, they’ll look at the bacteria to determine the best treatment measure.
If your doctor suspects kidney damage, they may order X-rays and kidney scans. These are imaging devices that take pictures of parts of your body.
If you have recurring UTIs, your doctor may want to perform a cystoscopy. In this procedure, they’ll use a cystoscope, which is a long, thin tube with a lens at the end, to look inside your urethra and bladder. Your doctor will look for any abnormalities or issues that could cause the UTI to keep coming back.
To say goodbye to burning, frequent urination, and other unpleasant symptoms, start with these changes today. The key is to keep bacteria out of your system.
- Drink plenty of water, and relieve yourself often. The simplest way to prevent a UTI is to flush bacteria out of the bladder and urinary tract before it can set in. If you’re well-hydrated, it will be tough to go too long without urinating.
- Drink juices like cranberry or pomegranate. Antioxidant-rich fluids are best since they prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder and urethra. In terms of antioxidant content, cranberry juice is a good choice, but pomegranate is even better.Additionally, pomegranate is high in vitamin C, so as Only My Health explained, the antioxidants flush out the bacteria while the vitamin C helps to boost the overall immune system for a fast recovery from the UTI.
- Wipe from front to back. Bacteria tend to hang around the anus. If you wipe from front to back, especially after a bowel movement, they’re less likely to make it to the urethra.
- Wash up before sex and urinate after it. Use soap and water before sex. This keeps bacteria away from the urethra. And urinating afterward pushes any bacteria that entered the urinary tract back out.
- Steer clear of irritating feminine products. Skip douches, deodorant sprays, scented powders, and other potentially irritating feminine products.
- Rethink your birth control. A diaphragm, spermicide, or spermicide-lubricated condom can make you more likely to get a UTI because they all can contribute to bacterial growth. If you often get UTIs and use one of these birth control methods, switch to a water-based lubricant for vaginal dryness, and consider trying another birth control method to see if it helps.
Some doctors also advise women who get a lot of UTIs to wear cotton underwear, take showers instead of baths, and avoid tight clothes that can trap bacteria near the urethra. While these are simple enough to do, none of them are supported by scientific data.
Tips of hygiene we can follow to prevent UTI
- Urinate as soon as you feel the need rather than holding on. Urinate shortly after sex to flush away bacteria that might have entered your urethra during sex.
- After going to the toilet, wash with water or clean with toilet paper. Always wipe from front to back to prevent faecal bacteria from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
- Shower before going to bed.
- Always wear clean and fresh undergarments. Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes so that air can keep the area dry. Avoid tight- fitting clothes and nylon underwear, which trap moisture and can help bacteria grow.
- Using a diaphragm or spermicide for birth control can lead to UTIs (in women) by increasing bacteria growth. Unlubricated condoms or spermicidal condoms increase irritation, which may help bacteria grow. Consider switching to lubricated condoms without spermicide or using a non-spermicidal lubricant.