Some conditions can be ignored, a person can carry on despite being in pain or uncomfortable. An acute, severe urinary tract infection however is not such a condition. It is uncomfortable, urgent and will demand that a person suffering from it addresses it immediately. It is the second most common type of infection in the body and women are especially prone to UTIs, the reason is not yet well understood. Statistics vary on the subject, some sources state that one in five women will develop a UTI while other sources state that up to 50% of women may suffer from urinary tract infections, but of course, these can vary in severity. It is not a common condition in men, but when it does occur, it can be rather serious. Older men are more prone to developing an infection which is probably related to prostatic enlargement leading to urinary stasis and an increased risk of infection.
The urinary system consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and the urethra. The key elements in the system are the kidneys, which remove excess liquid and waste products from the blood and produce urine. Narrow tubes called ureters carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder where it is stored until emptied through the urethra.
Normally, urine is sterile. It is usually free of bacteria, viruses and fungi but does contain water, salts and waste products. An infection occurs when tiny organisms, usually bacteria from the digestive tract, cling to the opening of the urethra and begin to multiply. The urethra carries urine from the bladder to outside the body. Most infections arise from Escherichia coli (E. coli), which lives in the colon.
Some people are more prone to contracting a UTI than others, especially if the bladder is not voided completely when visiting the toilet. Any abnormality of the urinary tract that obstructs the flow of urine (a kidney stone, for example) can cause an infection. An enlarged prostate gland can also slow the flow of urine, thus raising the risk of infection. Catheters or tubes placed in the urethra and bladder can cause an infection.
People with diabetes have a higher risk of infection because of changes in the immune system. All disorders that suppress the immune system may increase the risk of a urinary infection. Many women suffer from recurrent infections and it is estimated that 20% of women who have one UTI, are likely to have another, and a further 30% of those will have yet another. Almost like a vicious cycle, with the causative strain bacteria always being slightly different to the previous infection. Due to the prevalence of these infections, extended research is being done to curb and of course, cure UTIs.
It has been found that a UTI in a pregnant woman tends to travel to the kidneys, which makes it more serious, and for this reason, many doctors recommend routine testing of urine during pregnancy.
Strangely enough, not everyone with a UTI has symptoms. The most common symptoms experienced are:
- A frequent urge to urinate.
- Painful, burning feeling in the bladder or urethra during urination.
- A general feeling of malaise, fatigue, shakiness and a washed out feeling.
- Pain, even when not urinating.
- Women often experience an uncomfortable pressure above the pubic bone.
- The urge to urinate is huge, but the amount of urine passed is small.
- Urine may appear milky or cloudy.
- If fever is present it could indicate that the infection has reached the kidneys.
- A kidney infection could present with back pain, pain below the ribs, nausea and even vomiting.
To diagnose a UTI, the doctor will test a midstream urine sample. This sample can be sent to a laboratory, but some doctors’ rooms are equipped to do the testing immediately.
Another good reason for going to the doctor with this type of infection is that it could be more serious, such as involving an infection of the kidneys or even possibly kidney stones, especially if the infection recurs regularly.
Urinary tract infections are treated with antibacterial drugs. The actual drug and time of treatment will depend on the patient’s history and the results of the urine test that identifies the offending bacteria. Most antibiotics prescribed for uncomplicated UTIs are the quinolones which have been approved for treating these infections. It is important to ensure that patient’s are counselled to take the full course of treatment because symptoms may disappear before the infection is fully cleared, resulting in resistance.
Other steps that can be taken by the patient to prevent recurrence:
- Drink plenty of water every day.
- Urinate when the need is felt, don’t wait till it is almost too late.
- Wipe from front to back when going to the toilet.
- Take showers instead of bathing.
- Do not use feminine sprays and scented douches.
Home Remedies and Treatment
For a mild infection, treatment at home or with over- the -counter medication could resolve the problem:
- A popular remedy is to take copious amount of liquid, such as fresh fruit juice and water.
- Citro Soda® taken every few hours as well as a lot of water to help alkalinise the urine.
- Taking a mixture of bicarbonate of soda in water can also be helpful, and has a similar effect as Citro Soda®
- Drink lots of unsweetened cranberry juice, fresh juice is even better.
- Vitamin C is said to prevent bacterial growth due to the acidic environment created in the bladder and urinary tract.
- Maintain the alkaline content in urine by a rich diet of milk, fruits and fresh vegetables.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame as they could aggravate a bladder infection.
It is not always possible to prevent a urinary tract infection, but if treated as soon as the first symptoms are noticed, it could shorten the treatment period and resolve symptoms faster. For those lucky women who have never suffered from this type of infection, count yourself extremely fortunate. For those women who have suffered the debilitating symptoms of a UTI they will recognise the symptoms immediately. It is like toothache, best avoided if at all possible.