If you are a woman, then you have an increased risk of developing a UTI due to the shorter urethra. A UTI can develop and go unnoticed and can cause severe damage to your urinary tract system. Therefore, if you suspect you have a UTI, or something's not okay down there, contact your gynecologist.
All Women’s Care understands the vulnerabilities women go through in their lives; we are a team of skilled and compassionate gynecologists and obstetricians offering care services to women across all lifestyles. We are familiar with the signs of urinary tract infection, and we help you manage the condition and prevent recurrence and damage to your kidneys.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a microbial infection caused by fungi, bacteria, and sometimes viruses. The most common UTI are bacterial infections and can be cured with antibiotics. Urinary tract infections can affect any part of the urinary tract, including the kidney, ureter, bladder, urethra, and the uterus.
The common infections affect urethra and bladder; however, a more serious infection can occur in the kidneys or uterus.
The symptoms of urinary tract infections are similar in men and women. However, they may differ depending on the affected part of the urinary tract. The symptoms of a UTI in the lower urinary tract (urethra and bladder) include:
- A burning sensation when urinating
- A constant urge to urinate (but you pass little urine)
- Blood in urine
- Cloudy urine
- Discolored urine (might look like tea)
- Strong-smelling urine
- Pelvic pain (women)
- Rectal pain (men)
The symptoms of a UTI in the upper tract (uterus and kidneys) include:
- Pain and tenderness in the abdomen and upper back
A urinary tract infection in the kidney can lead to death if not treated early. The microbes responsible for the infection could enter the blood and cause poisoning (urosepsis). Urosepsis reduces your blood pressure, causing shock and death.
Children can also develop urinary tract infections. Girls are at a higher risk of infection compared to boys, especially if they have not learned to wipe themselves properly. The right way to wipe after toilet use is from front to back (without rubbing). When a girl wipes from back to front, she increases the risk of introducing bacteria from the rectum to the vagina.
Types of Urinary Tract Infection
There are three major types of UTI, depending on the affected part of the urinary tract. The infection can occur in isolation or together with other types of UTI. The common types of UTI include:
Urethritis refers to a UTI in the urethra (the tube that drains urine from the bladder). Urethritis commonly occurs due to bacteria, which causes inflammation and irritation of the urethra. Urethritis is the condition responsible for an incessant urge to urinate and pain when urinating.
The symptoms of urethritis will differ in males and females. The symptoms in women include:
- Pain when urinating
- A frequent urge to urinate
- Irritation at the opening of the urethra
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
The symptoms in males might include:
- Irritation when urinating
- Itching at the opening of the penis
- Blood in urine or semen
People with multiple sexual partners or who engage in high-risk sexual activities are at an increased risk of getting urethritis. A history of STIs also increases your risk of infection. Urethritis can lead to complications such as infection of the testis, bladder, and prostate in men. Women can experience complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
Cystitis occurs when your bladder becomes inflamed due to infection by bacteria. Cystitis irritates when urinating, cloudy urine, bloody urine, and pelvic discomfort. The condition can also affect young children leading them to wet their beds. However, not every case of nighttime bedwetting is due to a UTI.
If not treated, the condition can spread to the kidneys, causing kidney damage. Some of the warning symptoms that you need immediate medical attention include:
- An urgent need to urinate that lasts more than a few hours
- Blood in urine
- Pain in the back or side
E.coli bacteria are a common cause of bacterial cystitis. The bacteria usually live in the intestines. It moves to the urinary tract infection when the bacteria leave the intestines and enters the urinary tract.
The risks for developing cystitis are higher in women who are:
- Sexually active
- Using certain birth control methods such as diaphragms
The E.coli bacteria can be released from the body through feces. Therefore, switching between vaginal and anal sex without cleaning, or using protection introduces the bacteria into the urinary tract, increasing the risk of infection.
You are also at risk if you have experienced changes in your immune system, have used bladder catheters for long, or have another condition that is interfering with the flow of urine. You can also get an infection due to toilet water backsplash.
Pyelonephritis is the riskiest form of urinary tract infection. It can lead to permanent kidney damage and death. The condition can be either acute or chronic, depending on the frequency of reinfection.
The symptoms of pyelonephritis include:
- A fever higher than 102°F
- Pain in the groin, abdomen, back or sides
- Pain when urinating
- Pus or blood in the urine
- An urgent and frequent need to urinate
- Urine with a fishy odor
- Nausea and vomiting
The condition usually starts as an infection of the lower urinary tract. When the bacteria spread to the kidneys, then pyelonephritis occurs. Other risk factors include having a condition that interrupts the flow of urine. These conditions include kidney stones. Other risk factors include:
- Age (older adults are at an increased risk of developing the infection)
- People with conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and diabetes which suppress the immune system
- You have an enlarged prostate
- You are using a catheter
- You have had a urinary tract surgery
- You suffer from vesicoureteral reflux (backflow of urine from the bladder to the upper urinary tract)
- Spinal cord injuries
Diagnosis and Treatment of Urinary Tract Infection
Diagnosing a simple UTI requires an analysis of the symptoms. However, some cases require an evaluation to confirm the diagnosis, especially if the doctor believes the infection could have spread to the kidneys or for chronic UTI.
If you go to your doctor suspecting a UTI, the doctor can conduct several tests to confirm or rule out the presence of a urinary tract infection. The common tests include:
- Urine tests to check for red and white blood cells in the urine and bacteria
- Urine culture to determine the type of bacteria in the urine
- Conducting a CT or MRI scan or an ultrasound of your urinary tract system to identify abnormalities in your urinary tract system that could be contributing to reinfection
- Conducting a cystoscopy
- A physical examination
Once the doctor identifies the source of the infection, he or she will administer the treatment. Antibiotics are usually the common treatment course for simple urinary tract infections. You must complete the antibiotics course even if your symptoms alleviate after a few days.
If you suffer from frequent infections, your doctor can take several treatment approaches:
- Administration of low-dose antibiotics for about six months
- Single-dose antibiotics after sex (for UTI related to sexual activity)
- Vaginal estrogen therapy for postmenopausal women
Severe UTI infections might necessitate intravenous antibacterial treatment.
Diagnosis of UTI in children and adults can be complicated as the symptoms are not always as clear. Therefore, the doctor must conduct additional tests and urine cultures to detect the presence of a UTI.
Home remedies can help you prevent or treat a UTI. You could try these remedies if your medication has failed, or you just want to exhaust your options. Home remedies are also an ideal way to deal with UTI from bacteria that have become resistant to medication (or you are afraid of the risk of them developing resistance).
You can take some steps at home to treat or prevent the recurrence of urinary tract infections. You can incorporate some of these into your daily routine for a healthier lifestyle. If you are pregnant, on medication, or have a kidney condition, contact your doctor before using some of these home remedies.
These remedies include:
- Drinking more water to encourage frequent urination, which helps in flushing out the bacteria from your urethra. Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria remain in the urinary tract long enough and begin to multiply. Water also dilutes urine, decreasing the concentration of bacteria. Taking water is especially crucial for postmenopausal women, who might avoid it to control incontinence.
- Increase your intake of vitamin C, which increases the acidity of your urine, therefore, creating an unsuitable environment for bacterial growth. Vitamin C also provides protective elements to the body by helping it fight infections.
- Taking unsweetened cranberry juice: cranberries prevent bacteria from attaching onto the walls of your urinary tract, therefore, preventing infections. Cranberry also has antioxidants with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory features. Commercial cranberry products might not work as well as the natural version. You might also want to get advice from your doctor before taking cranberry juice if you are pregnant. Sweetened cranberry might also not work well due to the higher sugar content.
- Take probiotics to promote a healthy balance in the bacteria in your body. The common sources of probiotics include probiotic yogurt or probiotic supplements. Probiotics work by preventing harmful bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract, have antibacterial properties, and lower the pH of the urine.
- Maintain healthy hygiene habits such as nor holding urine for long periods, peeing after intercourse, avoid the use of spermicides, and wiping from front to back. In addition, you should avoid cleaning your genitals with harsh detergents or harshly.
- Practice good sexual hygiene: urinate and clean your genitals and those of your partner before and after sex. Also, use a condom, especially if switching between vaginal and anal sex. You should also inform your partner if you are having or have had a UTI. This way, both of you can take the necessary steps to avoid reinfection.
- Urinate as soon as you feel the urge: holding in the urine encourages the bacteria to stay in the body and multiply. They can attach themselves to the walls of the urinary tract and spread to other parts. When you urinate, make sure to empty your bladder to reduce their concentration.
You must see your doctor if your symptoms do not improve after three to seven days. Visit the doctor immediately if you experience fever, chills, bloody urine, or cramping in the lower abdomen or groin.
Urinary Tract Infections and Pregnancy
Pregnancy brings many physical and hormonal changes. 2 to 10 percent of pregnant women have a UTI. A pregnant woman also has an increased risk of developing recurrent urinary tract infections.
As the uterus expands and the body adjusts to accommodate the growing baby, you could develop several problems in your urinary tract, including UTI.
Progesterone is a primary hormone released during pregnancy. It relaxes the muscles in the body, including those of the ureters. The urine, therefore, flows more slowly, increasing the time bacteria have to multiply.
The muscles of the bladder also loosen, making it harder for the bladder to empty the urine. Your uterus is also expanding and lying on the ureter, which further slows the flow of urine.
The composition of urine also changes significantly. The urine has more sugars, and proteins, which creates an optimum environment for the growth of bacteria.
Detecting a UTI during pregnancy can be complicated since women have no symptoms. Other symptoms, such as an incessant need to urinate, are common in pregnancy due to your changing body.
Most pregnant women will develop a lower tract urinary tract infection. However, up to 2% of pregnant women have a higher risk of developing acute pyelonephritis (UTI in the kidney). Pyelonephritis requires hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics. Your doctor will also give you oral antibiotics when you leave the hospital.
Failure to treat the condition can result in respiratory problems, premature labor, and sepsis. An untreated UTI could also result in preeclampsia. Having a urinary tract infection in the first or third trimester increases the likelihood of developing preeclampsia.
Pregnant women are likely to develop urinary tract infections between 6 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. On the other hand, the risk for developing preeclampsia starts at 20 weeks of gestation. Preeclampsia is a severe condition that could lead to both maternal and fetal death.
While UTI is not the only cause of preeclampsia, it could contribute to the condition by triggering inflammation of the urinary tract system.
Your doctor usually detects most pregnancy-related UTI during a routine antenatal check-up. The urinalysis procedure identifies any harmful bacteria that might be in your body.
Urinary tract infections are risky during pregnancy as you are at a higher risk of developing kidney infections. If the UTI spreads to the kidneys, you might experience preterm labor. Even in full-term pregnancies, urinary tract infections increase the likelihood of low birth weight.
Fortunately, you can decrease the likelihood of catching a UTI when pregnant by:
- Drinking more water to flush out the bacteria
- Eliminating refined fruits, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine as they may irritate the urinary tract
- Taking vitamin C to boost your immunity
- Urinating frequently and emptying the bladder fully
- Urinating before and after intercourse
- Wiping from the front to the back (blot out the urine instead of rubbing)
- Avoid douching, strong soaps or other feminine hygiene products that could irritate your genitals (your skin becomes more sensitive during pregnancy)
- Use lubricants during sex to prevent injuries that would encourage bacteria to travel up the urinary tract
- Avoid tight pants
- Wear cotton underwear to discourage the growth of harmful bacteria
- Treat vaginal infections promptly to prevent escalating the problem and spreading the infection into the urinary tract
- Take showers, not baths. If you do take a bath, do not soak for more than 30 minutes
However, if you do get a UTI, your doctor will recommend safe antibiotics. Normally, he or she will place you on antibiotics for three to seven days. Avoid sexual intercourse as you heal as this can encourage reinfection.
Most urinary tract infections clear with treatment. However, you may experience a recurrent or ongoing infection either due to medication failure or due to reinfection. You have a chronic or recurrent UTI if you have two infections within six months or three positive cultures in a year.
Recurrent urinary tract infections are as common as one in four women experience them. The symptoms of recurrent or chronic UTI are similar to those of a one-time infection. The treatment options include:
- Low dose antibiotics
- Preventative antibiotics after having sex to prevent the infections
- Painkillers to ease discomfort
Chronic UTI can lead to other complications, including kidney damage, sepsis, septicemia, premature delivery, and low birth weight.
Recurrent and chronic UTI is common in postmenopausal women. The body decreases its production of estrogen as you approach menopause. Estrogen regulates the pH of the vagina to keep it healthy. Changes in this balance can lead to the death of healthy bacteria and the development of disease-causing bacteria.
Post-menopausal women are also more likely to reduce their fluid intake to avoid the embarrassment of incontinence. However, by reducing fluid intake, the concentration of bacteria in the urine increases, as does the risk of a UTI.
Women who are struggling with incontinence can distribute their fluid intake throughout the day to reduce bathroom trips. You could also practice pelvic floor strengthening exercises to deal with incontinence.
Estrogen hormone therapy can decrease the symptoms of UTI by re-establishing the lost balance in the pH of the vagina. Decreased estrogen also causes inflammation of the vagina (vaginal atrophy), which increases the risk of developing a UTI post-menopause.
Complications of a UTI
Urinary tract infections can cause severe complications if not treated promptly. These complications could be life-threatening or cause severe organ damage. The common complications include:
- Kidney damage: 1 in 30 people will develop a kidney infection due to a UTI. The infection can lead to permanent kidney damage if the infection goes untreated or keeps recurring. Permanent kidney damage can lead to additional problems, including kidney failure, scars, high blood pressure, and death.
- Septicemia is a complication that develops when UTI-causing bacteria spreads from the urinary tract into the bloodstream. Also known as blood poisoning, septicemia manifests itself through symptoms such as chills, fever, rapid breathing, and heart rate. When left untreated, septicemia quickly advances into sepsis.
- Sepsis: urosepsis is a condition arising due to an untreated UTI. The body has a natural mechanism of fighting against infections by producing more white blood cells. However, the body sometimes overreacts to an infection causing inflammation throughout the body. Urinary tract infections that spread to the kidneys are common causes of sepsis. Sepsis can be a life-threatening condition if not treated soon. It can develop into severe sepsis (organ failure has occurred) and septic shock. Severe sepsis and septic shock have a mortality rate of more than 50%.
Taking preventative measures against a UTI can be a good way to avoid these infections. However, if you are infected, the best approach is to visit a doctor as soon as possible. Prompt treatment is essential, especially if you have additional conditions that affect your immune system, including:
- Preexisting conditions such as kidney stones
- Structural abnormalities in the urinary tract
- Multiple sclerosis
Find a Gynecologist Near Me
Urinary tract infections are uncomfortable. However, they may be asymptomatic, and you fail to learn about them until they have caused serious damage. A urinary tract infection could also be an indication of an underlying condition.
If you suspect a urinary tract infection, visit a doctor immediately so that you can begin treatment. All Women’s Care dedicates itself to providing quality services to women of all backgrounds.
We care for you to prevent, control, and treat any gynecological problems you care experiencing. Contact us today at 213-250-9461 for a consultation.