A urinary tract infection or UTI is a bacterial infection usually caused by gastroin-testinal bacteria that has travelled from the anal tract to the urinary tract. The condition is uncomfortable and painful, and, if left untreated, can lead to kidney damage.
Many women experience a urinary tract infection at least once in their lives. It’s a common bacterial infection that can be easily treated with antibiotics and natural remedies. However, it should be taken seriously as the possible complications can be severe.
Causes and classification
Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a widespread condition that can affect every part of the urinary tract (kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra). Anyone can get a UTI, but women are more susceptible simply because of their anatomy.
Women have a 30% higher risk than men for developing a UTI because their urinary tract is shorter, making it easier for bacteria to move from the bladder to the kidneys.
Urinary tract infection is usually caused by E. coli bacteria that commonly live in the large intestine. Other culprits include proteus mirabilis and klebsiella pneumoniae. If unwelcome bacteria reach the urethra, an infection can travel up the urinary tract. Many people experience a urinary tract infec-tion at least once in their lives. The severity of the condition depends on how far the bacteria have travelled, and UTIs are classified into different types based on how far up the urinary system the in-fection has spread.
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Types of UTIs:
Cystitis, or a bacterial infection in the bladder. This type of UTI causes discomfort and pain when urinating, and you might feel the need to urinate frequently. You may also experience a change in the colour and transparency of your urine, find blood in your urine, and feel pain in the lower abdomen.
Prostatitis, or a bacterial infection of the prostate. Common symptoms are pain in the groin, painful and difficult urination, blood in urine, and a frequent, urgent need to urinate. It mostly affects men under 50.
Urethritis, or a bacterial infection in the urethra. Urethritis causes a burning sensation while urinating and discharge from the urethra. Some people also report the feeling of not being able to urinate fully at once.
Pyelonephritis, or a bacterial infection of the kidneys. This is the most dangerous type of UTI and typically doesn’t happen unless the person has left an infection untreated or is immuno-compromised. It can lead to kidney damage (including acute renal failure) and cause chronic infection. If bacteria enter the kidneys, the infected person is likely to experience fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, as well as pain in the upper back.
Any infection can become dangerous if left untreated. Pay attention to early symptoms and seek medi-cal attention as soon as you notice that something is wrong.
Prevalence and risks of a urinary tract infection
Urinary tract infections are more common than you think. Researchers in the United Kingdom studied almost one million people over 10 years and found that 21% of respondents had had at least one UTI during this time. The most commonly affected were women and older people.
Many factors can increase the risk of a urinary tract infection, such as being female (and therefore having a shorter urethra) and wiping ‘back to front’ after using the toilet, which can bring bacteria from the anus to the urethra.
Other factors that increase your risks of getting a UTI:
A weakened immune system—if your body has been under stress for whatever reason, it has fewer resources to fight off harmful bacteria. This can increase your chance of getting a urinary tract infection. Some of the most common reasons for a weakened immune system are diabetes, obesity, immunosuppressant drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, and other viral or bacterial infections.
Hormonal changes—a sudden drop in estrogen has been linked to increased risk of infec-tion. Menopausal and pregnant women have a higher risk of getting a UTI due to hormonal fluctuations. Read more about hormonal changes here.
Sexual activity—a urinary tract infection can occur during sex when the bacteria travel from the anus to the urethra by means of close contact with the genitalia. Engaging in unprotected sex can also enhance the chances of contracting a UTI due to disturbances in pH levels and bacterial changes in the vagina. Read more about practising safe sex here.
Certain birth control—using a diaphragm as a method of birth control increases a woman’s risks of contracting a UTI, as does the use of condoms with spermicidal foam.
Wearing a urinary catheter—this is a flexible tube that is inserted into the urethra to collect urine into a bag in cases when one cannot urinate normally. A urinary catheter greatly increases your chances of contracting a UTI if used during pregnancy. Adhering to hygiene standards for catheter use is also very important in order to avoid infections.
Does cold weather cause UTIs? You may have been told not to sit on the cold ground and to keep your lower back warm in winter. Although cold weather doesn’t cause bacterial infections, it can be a facilitator. When our bodies must endure cold temperatures, they do their best to provide blood and oxygen to the vital organs. That means that blood circulation in the organs increases. Consequently, your kidneys need to work harder to filter blood and produce more urine. If you don’t support your body with proper hydration on cold days, it won’t work as effectively and you increase the risk of bacteria that have escaped filtration en-tering your urinary tract.
Does peeing after sex prevent UTIs? Many believe that urinating after sex can help avoid urinary tract infections. While there aren’t a lot of studies that support this claim, urine does flush bacteria from the urethra. Sexual intercourse increases your risk of getting a UTI because intimate contact means an increased presence of bacteria that may travel to the urinary tract. However, peeing after sex to flush bacteria is only effective if you do it with-in 30 minutes or so afterwards.
Although women have a higher chance of contracting an infection, physicians recommended that men also urinate after sex. Peeing after sex is not a magical cure; it will not prevent pregnancy or the stop spread of STDs. Always practice safe sex!
A urinary tract infection can often be treated using natural remedies, but you should still see your doc-tor to make sure the bacteria have not spread and that you are not at risk of developing a chronic infec-tion. Your doctor can perform urine tests to determine the seriousness of the infection. The most common medical treatment is a course of antibiotics and a reminder to drink fluids to help flush the bacteria from your system. If you are experiencing pain, your doctor may recommend painkillers.
Some specialists also recommend drinking cranberry juice or taking capsules containing tannin. Tan-nin is a natural polyphenol (micronutrient) present in cranberries that prevents E. coli bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder and urethra.
Although quite easy to treat, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. A urinary tract infec-tion can cause complications such as narrowing of the urethra, kidney damage, chronic infection, pregnancy risks, and even sepsis. So, what can you do to prevent a UTI?
Stay hydrated—urine itself has some antibacterial properties and effectively prevents bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract. Also, don’t hold your pee; regular urination helps flush bad bacteria out.
Wipe ‘front to back’—after relieving yourself, always wipe from the genitals to the anus to prevent gastrointestinal tract bacteria from entering the urethra.
Strengthen your immune system—your body is built to fight off bacteria and viruses. When your immune system is weakened, it becomes more difficult for the body to maintain its natural protective ‘shield’. You can strengthen your immune system by getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and engaging in regular physical exercise.
Practice safe sex—when having sex with a new partner always use a condom and remember to pee and wash your genitals after sex.
Avoid excessively washing your genital area—harsh detergents and scented products can destroy good bacteria and increase the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. A healthy personal hy-giene routine is important, but don’t overdo it—the self-cleaning function of your vagina relies on the health of the microflora within.
Limit your chances of getting a UTI by practising safe sex, staying hydrated, and maintaining proper intimate hygiene.
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