UTIs are a common concern for women today. Since early treatment is essential in stopping the spread of infection, recognizing UTI symptoms and seeking treatment immediately is important. It can make the difference between an infection that goes away quickly, or a problem that persists, causing you great discomfort and possibly spreading to your kidneys.?
Common Causes of a UTI
A UTI (urinary tract infection) is an infection that occurs in the urinary tract, usually resulting from bacteria entering the bladder through the urethra. Many women will experience a UTI throughout the course of a lifetime, and UTIs are seen more frequently in women than men.?
The most common UTIs in women are cystitis and urethritis, which are infections of the bladder and urethra, respectively.??
Cystitis (infection of the bladder)?
This type is usually caused when E. coli, typically found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, makes its way into the bladder. It can be caused by other bacteria as well.?
While sexual intercourse can cause an infection of the bladder, you do not have to be sexually active to develop cystitis. The proximity of the bladder, urethra, and anus make all women particularly susceptible to developing this type of infection.?
Urethritis (infection of the urethra)
In addition to contamination from bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, this can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections like herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.
Who Can Get UTIs?
Anyone can get a urinary tract infection, regardless of sex, age, or any other characteristics. However, there are some risk factors that may make you more likely to develop a UTI:
- Specific forms of birth control: Birth control devices that use spermicides can sometimes lead to more frequent UTIs.
- Sex: Because they have a shorter urethra than men, women are often more prone to developing UTIs. That said, both women and men do experience urinary tract infections.
- Menopause: Hormonal changes experienced by women after menopause make UTIs more common.
- Catheter use: Those who can’t urinate on their own and instead rely on a catheter are at higher risk of developing more frequent urinary tract infections.
- Urinary tract abnormalities: Doctors commonly see higher infection rates when the body cannot urinate as usual due to urinary tract abnormalities. These abnormalities are often present from birth.
This list is not exhaustive, so there are additional factors that may contribute to increased UTI risk. If you have concerns about the frequency of your urinary tract infections, consult with an OBGYN or healthcare provider about possible causes.
Common Symptoms of UTIs
Persistent pain or burning when you pee is one of the first signs that you may have a UTI. Drinking a lot of water at the first sign of painful urination may be helpful to flush out the bacteria. If painful urination only happens once and then disappears, and you don?t have any other symptoms, then your body may have already flushed the harmful bacteria.
Strong Urge to Go
If you feel a strong urge to go pee all the time, but relieving your bladder does not bring you relief, you may be experiencing a UTI. You feel like you have a full bladder all the time, but when you try to relieve yourself, only a painful trickle comes out.?
Change in Urine
Any cloudy, red, brown, or discolored urine is a sign of infection. If it clears up in a day or so, it may be attributed to the food you ate, like beets, for instance. If not, it?s cause for concern.
In addition, strong-smelling urine (and not because you just ate asparagus) is also a tell-tale sign that something is awry.?
Abdominal pain that feels like pressure or cramping around your bladder is often mistaken for period pain. If you have pain, cramping, and muscle aches, don?t rule out a UTI as these are often the most pronounced symptoms women report from a UTI.?
As with any infection, the body ramps up its production of white blood cells in the face of an infection, leaving you feeling more tired than usual. If you notice that you are more tired than usual, in combination with any other UTI symptoms, it is a red flag.?
Uncommon Symptoms of UTIs
These are signs that your UTI is getting worse and may begin to affect your kidneys. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Along with the other symptoms, if you are experiencing a fever above 101?F or night sweats and chills, these are signs that the bacteria have moved into your kidneys.?
If you experience two or more UTIs in a six month period, or three or more in a year, you are at an increased risk of developing more serious complications.
A regular course of antibiotics is the standard treatment for a UTI. Symptoms will most often subside within a few days of starting treatment. Finish the full course of antibiotic treatment even if you start to feel better to avoid a recurrence.?
When Should You Call Your Doctor About UTI Symptoms and Treatments?
You should call your doctor about UTI symptoms and treatments as soon as you suspect you have one. They will confirm the diagnosis with a urine test. Most infections will go away within a few days of taking prescribed antibiotics. The sooner you see your doctor, the less likely your chances of developing further complications.?
Signs a UTI Isn’t Fully Treated
If you have finished your full course of antibiotics and you are still experiencing UTI symptoms, your UTI may not be fully treated. Return to your doctor to discuss your options.?
Can You Prevent UTIs?
Because urinary tract infections are largely caused by bacteria, preventing UTIs places an emphasis on controlling bacterial growth. There are several ways that you can help keep bacteria, and therefore UTIs, in check:
- Avoid feminine products that irritate the skin or cause microbiome imbalance: The vagina is a largely self-cleaning organ. Unless specifically directed to use one by your doctor, you should avoid feminine products that are designed to sterilize or “cleanse” your vaginal area. Using these products can also irritate the urethra, for example, which can lead to infection.
- Drink plenty of fluids: Keeping your body hydrated can help ensure that your bladder and urinary tract are regularly flushing out bacteria. This can help keep that bacteria from building and creating or exacerbating an infection. Some people may prefer to drink cranberry juice in order to help prevent UTIs, though there is no peer reviewed evidence that confirms the beneficial impact of cranberry juice. (If you enjoy the flavor, it can’t hurt.) The research consensus, instead, is that staying hydrated in general can help prevent UTIs.
Practice good hygiene: “Good hygiene” can be something of an all encompassing term. There are two specific actions you can take, however, that will help prevent UTIs. First, most doctors recommend that you urinate shortly after sexual intercourse. This, again, helps prevent the buildup of bacteria. Second, doctors also recommend that you wipe from front to back, both after urination and after bowel movements. This helps prevent the anal region bacteria from spreading elsewhere.