This week we will continue our ongoing discussion of all things gynecologic and discuss the ever awful urinary tract infection (UTI). As someone who has gotten urinary tract infections in the past, I can truly say they are one of the most unpleasant infections I’ve ever had, and given how common they are, I figured it would be a good topic to write about this week. To learn more about urinary tract infections and how to prevent them, keep reading!
Just to review, urinary tract infections are infections that begin in your urinary system, which is comprised of your kidneys, bladder, ureters (tubes that connect kidneys to bladder), and urethra. Any part of the urinary system can become infected, but most infections occur in the lower urinary tract — the bladder and urethra. Women are at much higher risk to develop these types of infections compared to men. The key reason for this, according to the Mayo Clinic, is anatomy. Women have a much shorter urethra, which significantly cuts the distance that bacteria must travel to reach the bladder. Other risk factors include: being sexually active, undergoing menopause, having urinary tract anatomic abnormalities, having blockages in the urinary system (kidney stones, for example), and having a suppressed immune system.
If you've never had a urinary tract infection, consider yourself lucky, because the symptoms can be quite bothersome. Some urinary tract infections don't cause any symptoms at all, but if they are present they can include: a strong, persistent urge to urinate, a burning sensation when urinating, passing small, frequent amounts of urine, cloudy-appearing urine, strong-smelling urine, pink-colored urine (indicates blood in the urine), and pelvic pain. When treated promptly and properly, urinary tract infections rarely lead to complications. However, if left untreated, urinary tract infections can lead to acute or chronic kidney infections, which could permanently damage the kidneys.
So, how can you prevent urinary tract infections? Medline Plus (a great online resource from the National Institutes of Health) has a concise and thorough review of what can be done to prevent urinary tract infections. With regards to bathing and hygiene, they recommend wiping from front to back after using the bathroom to minimize the spread of bacteria from the rectal area to the urethral area, urinate before and after sexual activity, cleaning your genital area before and after sexual activity, taking showers instead of baths, using pads instead of tampons, and do not douche or use feminine hygiene sprays or powders. Other preventative measures include: avoid tight-fitting pants, wear cotton-cloth underwear, drinking plenty of fluids per day, drink cranberry juice (only if you do not have kidney stones or have a family history of kidney stones), and avoiding fluids that irritate the bladder such as alcohol and caffeine.
Hopefully these prevention tips will help keep you free of urinary tract infections. However, if you have any concerning symptoms, please seek evaluation with a medical professional in order to have testing and treatment, to avoid the complications associated with untreated urinary tract infections!
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