A UTI is a urinary tract infection. It can cause anything from a nuisance that goes away on its own, to a life-threatening kidney problem. Females have UTIs more often than men. Perhaps, it is due to the female anatomy. Women have shorter urinary passageways, so bacteria have less distance to travel.
A quick anatomy lesson will make the urinary system easy to understand. The urinary tract has only four parts:
- the urethra, which goes from the outside opening into the bladder
- the bladder, where urine is stored
- the ureters, which transport the urine from the kidneys to the bladder
- the kidneys, which are the filtering system of the urinary tract
Recognize Symptoms of a UTI
Early symptoms of a UTI are so vague that they are often overlooked. There may be a pain in the abdomen, back, or side. Some women complain that they just don’t feel well. Painful urination, frequent urination, and urinary urgency are three of the most common complaints that prompt women to see a doctor. As the infection progresses, a woman may notice the urine becomes cloudy or bloody. Sometimes, there are no symptoms.
See a Doctor if a UTI is Suspected
Left untreated, a bacterial infection usually grows. The infection can advance from the urethra, into the bladder, up the ureters, and invade the kidneys. The kidneys are the body’s filtering system. Since good kidney function is crucial to health, anything that interferes with kidney function can turn into a serious problem.
What Bacteria Causes a UTI?
Many bacteria cause UTIs. The doctor will usually order a urinalysis and a culture and sensitivity test to detect which bacteria is to blame. The doctor will probably ask for a clean caught specimen. This means the area around the urinary opening is to be cleaned and the patient will urinate in a specimen cup.
The complete results can take up to 72 hours to obtain because the culture needs time to grow. The doctor may start a broad spectrum antibiotic before the results are back. These antibiotics treat the usual causes of UTIs. They can keep the bacteria in check. Ideally, the doctor will wait for the results. The final report will list the medicines most effective for treating the specific bacteria causing the UTI. The results often list the most cost-effective treatments as well.
How to Treat a Urinary Tract Infection
Tell the doctor about any allergies before starting any medication. Antibiotics can have totally different names but cause the same allergic reaction. Once the doctor prescribes the proper treatment, it is up to the patient to follow through. Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed. If there’s a worrisome side effect, call the doctor.
Antibiotics often cause stomach and bowel problems. Some doctors have started ordering probiotics along with the antibiotics to lessen the chance of diarrhea. Duration of antibiotic treatment usually runs from one day to two weeks. But for persistent infections, doctors prescribe antibiotics indefinitely.
Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections
It is not unusual for urinary tract infections to recur. But if this happens, further testing is needed to find out the reason. There could be a blockage, an immune system problem, or some other contributing factor. There are many tests used to diagnose problems. Several are commonly ordered.
- IVP intravenous pyelogram, which takes pictures of the entire urinary system
- ultrasound, which uses sound waves to get pictures of the abdomen or pelvis
- cystoscopy, which provides a view of the urethra and bladder
Preventing Urinary Tract Infections
These prevention tips are simple. Nevertheless, women need reminders to take care of themselves. Many women admit to holding their urine until they are finished doing “something more important.”
- Urinate as soon as the urge strikes. Holding urine increases the chances of bacterial growth.
- Wipe from front to back after using the toilet. This keeps bacteria away.
- Drink plenty of fluids. They wash bacteria out of the bladder.
- Urinate and wash urethral areas before and after sex. It keeps bacteria from entering during sex.
- Avoid scented douches and soaps. They can cause irritation which can lead to infection.
Some doctors recommend drinking cranberry juice if there is no history of kidney stones in the family. Drinking cranberry juice makes urine acidic and that discourages the growth of bacteria. So remember the basics and reduce the chances of getting a urinary tract infection.