Urinary Tract Infections
If you are finding yourself rushing to the bathroom a lot lately, and are experiencing painful urination, you may be suffering from a dreaded urinary tract infection. Urinary tract infections are one the most common infections out there, affecting more than 10 million men and women every year. Women are much more likely to contract a urinary tract infection, with 50% of women experiencing at least one urinary tract infection in their lifetime. Though painful, urinary tract infections are easily treatable and do not usually result in health risk. With careful prevention, you can avoid ever having to deal with a urinary tract infection.
What are Urinary Tract Infections?
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs for short, are the result of an overgrowth of bacteria in your urethra, bladder, or kidneys. Urinary tract infections are caused by a variety of bacteria, but 85% of UTIs are started by E. coli. E. coli usually lives in your colon, but sometimes these bacteria can creep into your urethra, causing painful infection.
Your urinary tract is made up of two sections: the lower urinary tract and the upper urinary tract. Infections most commonly occur in the lower urinary tract, which contains your bladder and urethra. Infection of the urethra, or urethritis, occurs when bacteria, usually from your rectum, travel into your urethra and grow there. Bladder infection, or cystitis, occurs when bacteria travel up past the urethra and lodge in the bladder. Bladder infections are the most common form of UTI, and can often occur at the same time as urethritis.
Your upper urinary tract contains your two kidneys and the tube that connects them, called the ureters. If a lower urinary tract infection is not treated, the bacteria can easily travel up the ureters into the kidneys, causing chronic urinary tract infections. A kidney infection is called pyelonephritis, and requires immediate care. Kidney infections can cause kidney damage or even failure if left untreated for an extended period of time.
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infection
Urinary tract infection symptoms include a powerful urge to urinate, and a painful, burning sensation when you do. You may also be unable to empty your bladder completely when you try to urinate, and sometimes only a tiny amount of urine can be expelled. Other symptoms of a urinary tract infection include cloudy or smelly urine, or bloody urine.
Simple lower urinary tract infections generally have few other symptoms. More serious upper urinary tract infections may cause nausea, vomiting, chills, fever, dizziness, and pain in the lower back and abdomen. If you have these symptoms, contact your heath care provider.
Top Causes of Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infection causes are numerous. Some are easily preventable, while others are more difficult to stop. Here are some common methods of bacterial transmission:
- Wiping back to front after bowel movements. This can spread E.coli from the rectum to the urethra.
- Frequent sexual intercourse. Women can easily become infected with the bacteria because of constant movement and thrusting of her partner's penis.
- Pregnancy. Vaginal birth can cause trauma to the bladder, preventing urine from being expelled.
- Menopause. Changes in hormone levels cause physical changes resulting in ease of infection.
- Kidney Stones. Hard deposits of calcium that resemble small rocks can block the bladder, preventing all urine from being expelled.
Menopause and Urinary Tract Infections
Your chance of developing a urinary tract infection increases after you begin menopause. Many menopausal women don't even realize that they have a UTI because the infections are often symptomless during menopause. In fact, up to 25% of menopausal women will have a urinary tract infection and not even realize it. Recurrent urinary tract infection is also common.
During menopause, your estrogen levels gradually decline. This stops your ovulation and your menstruation, but it also causes other physical changes. The drop in your estrogen levels causes your bladder to become less elastic. You may be unable to completely empty your bladder, which can allow for the growth of bacteria. Your bladder may also develop small abscesses, called cystoceles, which can hold urine and bacteria.
Urine is generally very acidic, which helps to kill excess bacteria. After menopause, the acidity of your urine drops, allowing bacteria to flourish. The amount of lactobacilli in your body will also drop. Lactobacilli are protective organisms that help to stop foreign bacteria from infecting you.
Because of these changes, menopausal women are at an increased risk for urinary tract infections. As if your menopause symptoms weren't enough already, now you may also have to deal with the discomfort of recurrent urinary tract infections.
Urinary Tract Infection Treatments
A variety of simple treatments are available to cure urinary tract infections. It is important to treat UTIs as soon as possible, because they can cause permanent kidney problems. Urinary tract infection during pregnancy can sometimes cause premature birth.
- Antibiotics for urinary tract infections are the most effective treatment. More than 85% of cases can be cured with one simple dose of an oral antibiotic. More complicated cases involving kidney infection may involve antibiotic injection, or longer courses of oral antibiotics.
- Cranberries are thought to be an excellent natural cure for urinary tract infections. They work by killing bacteria in your urinary tract. Cranberries contain high doses of Vitamin C, which increase the acidity of your urine. This may increase pain during urination though.
- Blueberries contain proanthocyanidins, which prevent E.coli from attaching to the walls of your urinary tract. This will prevent future urinary tract infections.
- Castor oil is a good home remedy for urinary tract infection. It is thought to soothe inflammation in the abdomen. Apply oil directly to the skin, and cover with a warm washcloth or hot water bottle for 30 to 60 minutes.
You can avoid dealing with urinary tracts infections by following these preventative measures:
- Drink lots of water. Water will flush out your system, preventing the growth of bacteria.
- Urinate when you have to. Ignoring the call of nature can cause your bladder to stretch and weaken. This can prevent the complete emptying of your bladder, leading to infection.
- Urinate after sex. Any bacteria that was transmitted during intercourse will be washed away.
- Wipe from front to back. This will prevent bacteria from your rectum being passed to your urethra.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing, bathing suits, or nylon panties for extended periods. They can trap moisture and cause bacteria to collect.
- Don't use moisturizers, douches, or heavily perfumed soaps around your urethra. This can cause irritation and may trap bacteria.
For more information about urinary tract infections, check out our women's health forum.