Are You Experiencing Discomfort from a UTI?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a very common urinary complaint in men and women, causing severe pain and usually a burning sensation when you go to the bathroom. Over 60% of women and over 10% of men will experience a UTI in their adult life. It is important to take immediate action when you experience a UTI. In addition to suffering pain and discomfort, ignoring a UTI can cause complications such as a kidney infection.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is caused by bacteria somewhere in the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.
UTIs occur in both males and females but are less common in males. In both sexes the risk of infection increases as a person gets older. This is because the muscles in the bladder and pelvic floor get weaker in old age. The resulting difficulties in urination increases chances of getting a UTI.
Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection
Different people will experience different symptoms from a UTI, depending on the types of infection, the severity and your tolerance for discomfort. Generally, patients will experience some or all of the following symptoms to varying degrees:
- Pain or burning while urinating
- Frequent urge for urination
- Feeling the need to urinate despite having an empty bladder
- Blood in the urine
- Pressure or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen
If any of the above symptoms develop, you should visit a medical practitioner.
3 Types of Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
There are three (3) types of UTI, and they are named depending on the location of the infection within the urinary tract system. Infection can settle in the bladder (cystitis) or the urethra (urethritis) or the kidneys (pyelonephritis). The symptoms for each type of infection vary, so it’s important you observe your symptoms and promptly discuss them with your urologist.
Cystitis is an infection in the bladder. The symptoms include:
- Painful or frequent with urination
- Tenderness or discomfort in the abdomen or bladder area
- Blood in the urine, visible to the naked eye
- Although uncommon, women may have a genital discharge
Urethritis is an infection in the urethra. Symptoms of urethritis include:
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Urethral discharge
Infections in the kidneys are known as pyelonephritis. Symptoms of pyelonephritis include:
- Pain in the sides of your abdomen, above the hips and below your lower ribs
- Nausea or vomiting
What are the causes of a UTI?
A UTI is caused when bacteria enters the urinary tract. There can be a number of reasons how this can occur, and some people, usually women, are more susceptible to contracting UTIs. The most common situations that can lead to contracting a UTI are:
- Personal hygiene practices – avoid cross contamination when wiping yourself
- Sexual intercourse – avoid cross contamination from certain sexual intercourse practices
- Gender anatomy – women naturally have a shorter urinary tract which increases the chance of UTIs
- Reduced immunity – treatment for chronic or acute illnesses as well as medical devices (e.g. tubes) or certain medications can increase the risk of contracting a UTI
- Menopause – changes in hormone levels affect your pH levels that can cause UTIs
Other Risk Factors for UTIs
Unfortunately, women are more at risk of developing a UTI because of the shorter length of the urethra in their anatomy. Having a shorter urethra makes the bladder more accessible to bacteria, which is why female urology is of special concern for doctors. Other common UTI risk factors include:
- Poor personal hygiene
- Kidney stones
- Men suffering BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia)
- Certain types of contraception
- Sexual intercourse
- Medications, that can disrupt the natural flora of the bowel and urinary tract
- A urinary catheter or similar device
Prevention of UTIs
There are steps that you can take to reduce your risk of developing a UTI or bladder infection. Some easy suggestions are:
- Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration
- Diabetics should maintain good sugar control
- Good sexual practices that avoid cross-contamination between anus and vagina
- Good hygiene when using the bathroom – avoid cross-contamination of the urethra
- Always use clean and comfortable underwear (prevents bacteria growing)
- Careful use of manual contraceptive devices (e.g. diaphragm, spermicides, and lubricants)
- Drink cranberry juice, as it helps to prevent bacterial clusters from forming
Diagnosis of Bladder Infections and UTIs
Diagnosing a UTI is usually straightforward through urine analysis. Under the microscope, infected urine contains white blood cells that indicate an immune reaction is occurring. The infected urine will also contain bacterial cells.
If the urine is cultured or allowed to grow on an agar plate or in a broth, the bacterial species may be more easily identified. However, there’s also a much faster method called the ‘dipstick’ test. This is as simple as placing a stick into a urine sample and waiting for it to change color, indicating the presence of bacteria.
If you have frequent UTIs, your doctor may want to investigate further to identify whether there are any abnormalities of the urethra. This may include non-invasive tests like:
- CT scan
However, your doctor may also want to perform a procedure known as a cystoscopy. During this procedure, a tiny tube is inserted into the urethra, then into the bladder, to look for abnormalities.
Treatment of UTIs
Antibiotics are usually the best way to treat a UTI. If you have mild or infrequent cases, then oral antibiotics will usually clear up the problem. However, for persistent or serious infections your doctor may recommend intravenous antibiotics.
Your doctor may also prescribe or recommend quality of life medicines, such as ibuprofen, to ease the discomfort associated with a UTI. Lastly, menopausal women may be prescribed an oestrogen cream to help with symptom management.