It’s UTI season! I know because so many patients are coming in after a fun weekend with bladder infections. True, the warmth and humidity of the summer months does increase bacteria growth and the chances of Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs). UTIs are an infection in any part of the “tract” or system that processes urine and eliminates it from your body. It all starts way up top, in the kidneys and travels down through a pair of tubes called ureters and into your bladder. The bladder is a stretchable muscular sac that can hold up to 2 cups of pee for 2 to 5 hours – or not, well, that’s another blog… Urine leaves the bladder through another tube called the urethra which transports the urine out of the body. Any section of this system can become infected with bacteria such as Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, or Staphylococcus saprophyticus.
Symptoms and Causes
Women of all ages are most at risk of UTIs because our urethra (the tube from the bladder to the outside of our bodies) is much shorter than the guys’ so the bacteria can more easily make the trip from our vagina and up into the system.
The first clues that you may have a UTI usually happen when you urinate, here are symptoms you might experience:
- An intense urge to urinate, immediately — often resulting in minimal urine production
- Frequent urination – A feeling of having to go every 5 – 10 minutes, with just painful drops coming out
- Intense sharp stinging and/or burning with urination
- Lower back or upper back pain or discomfort
- Cloudy urine
- Foul-smelling urine
- Passing small blood clots or seeing pink urine in the toilet from small microtears in the urethra which causes the bleeding
- Fever or chills
- Feeling generally poor and low-energy
What Ups My Risk for UTIs?
- Sexual intercourse
- Certain contraceptives (E.g. diaphragms or spermicides)
- The presence of kidney or bladder stones
- Urinating without fully emptying the bladder
- Having a urinary catheter
- Wiping back to front after a bowel movement
- A new sexual partner
- A Sexually transmitted infection
- A vaginal infection
- Menopause with reduced estrogen in the vagina
When the Infection Travels up to the Kidney
Bacterial bladder infections, also called cystitis, are the most common type of UTIs. A 3–5-day course of antibiotics is usually prescribed and relief from symptoms may take a few days.
If the bladder infection worsens, then the bacteria multiply and travel up the ureters to the kidneys, which can lead to a kidney infection. Sometimes, kidney infections go untreated and become more severe condition known as sepsis which is life-threatening and leads to hospitalization requiring intravenous (IV) antibiotics.
If a kidney infection is recognized promptly, then oral antibiotics for a week to 10 days or will usually stop the infection. People feel much more ill with a kidney infection than they do with a UTI.
Symptoms of a kidney infection may include:
- Fever or chills
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- Pink or red-tinged urine (this is a sign of bleeding in the urinary tract)
- Burning when urinating
- The feeling that you need to pee frequently, but when you go to the toilet very little urine comes out
- Pain in the pelvic area just above the pubic bone
- Moderate to severe lower back pain
- Nausea or vomiting
Ways You Can Help Prevent a UTI
- Be sure you’re getting enough water every day–frequent, well-diluted urine helps wash bacteria through the system and out.
- Cranberry juice or cranberry supplement may help some people because it can make the bladder wall too slippery for bacteria to hold on to. It works for some people, but not for everyone and the research is mixed.
- Clean your genitals from front to back– Let only pee near the V! This is huge in preventing UTIs. This wipes the bacteria away from your vagina and urethra.
- If you tend to get UTI’s you may find that getting up and washing off after sex can help reduce the frequency.
- Use condoms with any new partner.
- Don’t use products that can irritate your genitals; douches, vaginal sprays, and scented feminine hygiene products, bath additives, all can cause problems.
- Avoid staying too long in tight synthetic clothing, exercise clothes, or swimsuits, especially when damp.
Ah yeast, another mainly female affliction. Also called as candidiasis or vaginal thrush this is also a common infection. Around 75% of women get one at least once in their lifetime. It differs from a UTI in that it is caused by the Candida fungus and affects the vagina, whereas a UTI is usually caused by bacteria and affects the urinary tract. Many women carry a few yeast cells around in our healthy vaginas – it’s when things get out of balance that problems arise.
Disruptions that increase chances of yeast infection:
- Antibiotic use–broad-spectrum antibiotics wipe out all the good bacteria that keep the vagina acidic and prevent the overgrowth of yeast
- A weakened immune system
- Using high-dose estrogen birth control
- Using douches or vaginal sprays
- As with UTIs, synthetic clothing, damp swimsuits or exercise clothes
Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection:
- Intense itching or irritation around the genital area
- A burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating
- A thick, white, odor-free, discharge–looks like cottage cheese!
Yeast Infection Treatment
For mild to moderate symptoms and infrequent episodes, your healthcare provider might recommend:
- Short-course vaginal therapy. Taking an antifungal medication for 3 to 7 days will usually clear a yeast infection. Common antifungal medications such as miconazole (Monistat 3) and terconazole are available as creams, ointments, tablets and suppositories. Some of these medications are available over-the-counter and others by prescription only.
- Single-dose oral medication. You might be prescribed a one-time, single oral dose of fluconazole (Diflucan). Oral medication isn’t recommended if you’re pregnant.
There is a new 1-day oral medication for yeast that has just been approved by the FDA, so stay tuned for more on this.