What to know about UTIs – and how to prevent them
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are uncomfortable, inconvenient and very common. Most people, especially women, will contract a UTI at some point in their lifetime. Michaela French, WHNP, shared how to recognize a UTI and prevent it from happening in the first place.
What are the symptoms of a UTI?
- Burning with urination
- Urinary urgency
- Bladder pain
- Frequent, small volume urination
“UTI symptoms accompanied by fevers, chills or flank pain need to be treated urgently as these can be signs of more significant infections,” said French.
What causes a UTI?
The cause of a UTI is different for women and men.
In women, the fundamental cause relates to the anatomy. Women have short urethras, which makes it very easy for bacteria from stool, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), to inhabit the bladder. UTIs are more common and sometimes more difficult to treat after menopause due to decreases in estrogen, a hormone which helps keep the tissues of the vagina, urethra and bladder healthy and resistant to bacteria.
In men, UTIs are less common but can certainly still occur. Risk factors for UTIs in men include prostate enlargement and being uncircumcised.
The risk of UTIs is higher in both men and women who are immunocompromised with medical conditions such as cancer, history of organ transplants and diabetes. UTIs are also more common if you use a catheter to empty your bladder, have untreated kidney stones or other kidney or bladder abnormalities.
How can you treat a UTI?
UTIs require medical attention from a healthcare provider for treatment. “Your urine needs to be sent for a culture and the appropriate antibiotic will be prescribed based on what bacteria is found. Attempting to treat a UTI without knowing this information can prolong your infection,” said French.
How can you prevent a UTI?
Some tips that may help prevent UTIs are:
- Wear breathable underwear
- Urinate after sex
- Wipe front to back
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid spermicides (chemicals found on some condoms)
- Don’t hold your urine
There are also some supplements backed by solid science that prevent UTIs. These over-the-counter supplements include:
- D-mannose. This is a form of sugar that appears to be as effective as a daily antibiotic in preventing E. coli UTIs, which are the most common kind in women. Talk to your doctor before using this supplement, especially if you are diabetic.
- Cranberry supplements. Not to be confused with cranberry juice. Some studies show that cranberry supplements can be effective in preventing recurrent UTIs. There is a wide variety of options on the market, and not all are high quality. Ask your doctor for recommendations.
Maintaining vaginal health is also important to preventing UTIs. Some options for prevention include:
- Vaginal estrogen cream. If you are post-menopausal and not actively being treated for breast cancer this may be a good option. It is a topical prescribed by your doctor to help restore your vagina and urethra’s natural resistance to bacteria.
- Probiotics. These can replete the healthy bacteria of the vagina. The vagina needs healthy bacteria to protect itself from other bacteria inhabiting the bladder.
“Hopefully these prevention tactics help you take back some control of your urinary health. However, if you are stuck in a cycle of UTI after UTI, you need to be evaluated by a urologist or urogynecologist,” said French. Remember, if you experience a fever or chills as a symptom, see your doctor right away.
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