A urinary tract infection is very painful, uncomfortable and can be embarrassing. Your gynecologist will also tell you that a urinary tract infection can lead to serious issues if left untreated. What’s more is that unfortunately, women are at a higher risk than men for contracting a UTI as well. So, if you are a woman and you feel that you may have a UTI coming on, you came to the right place to learn all about the signs and symptoms of the infection and what to do about it.
What is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection could actually involve a lot more anatomy than you might expect. A common foretelling sign of a UTI is the burning sensation when urinating, but the issue may be caused by something more internal.
Let’s explore the urinary system as a whole.
This system is made up of the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder and the urethra. With a UTI, anyone of these parts could be infected. Most commonly the bladder and the urethra are the ones with the infection though. But, as stated prior, if a UTI is left untreated the infection could spread to your kidneys which could lead to serious issues.
Different Types of UTI
With there being more than one part that could be affected by the infection, let’s break down the different parts that could or may be infected and the symptoms for each:
- An infection of the Urethra may offer the symptoms that are most common, such as a burning feeling when urinating and a vaginal discharge.
- An infection of the Bladder may come with discomfort, pain and pressure in the lower region of the abdomen and pelvic area, an increased need to urinate, painful urination and blood in your urine.
- An infection of the Kidneys may be associated with nausea, vomiting, a high fever with chills and shaking, and pain in the upper back and side.
If you are currently feeling any of these symptoms it is best to call your doctor to get a full checkup.
Now, these are symptoms caused by specific infections within the urinary tract.
Other symptoms that come prominent with a UTI also include:
- A strong smell to your urine
- Signs of blood in the urine
- Indicators of blood include a red, pink or caramel color to the urine
- Cloudy urine
- The persistent urge to urinate
- Pain in the pelvic area, close to the pubic bone
- A painful burning feeling when urinating
- Only able to urinate in small amounts frequently as the urge to urinate persists
Some women are more prone to getting a UTI than others. Why would this be? We’ll explain.
What Causes a UTI?
Women specialist doctors are often posed with the question from their female patients, how did I get a UTI?
There are many causes of a urinary tract infection. Such as with infections, bacteria is the main suspect for this unpleasant condition.
A Urethra Infection: Urethritis
The urethra is the canal where the urine exits the body as it is passed by the bladder. If it becomes vulnerable to bacteria, the urethra could become infected and the site will get inflamed as the body is trying to fight the infection. Without proper treatment the infection could then spread to the other areas of the urinary tract system, first to the bladder, then the kidneys.
Most typical sources of bacteria would be from fecal matter since the urethra is so close in proximity to the anus. Sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and mycoplasma can also cause a UTI.
Am I at Risk for Getting a UTI?
Having the female anatomy makes the women more susceptible to UTIs than men. This is due to the urethra being shorter in the female body than in the male body, making access for bacteria that much easier to reach the bladder.
With that said, there are other risk factors to be aware of that could make you more susceptible to a UTI:
- Women who are sexually active tend to be more at risk for getting UTIs. Women who are active with more than one partner, are at a greater risk of exposing themselves to bacteria.
- Different types of birth control may play a contributing factor in getting a UTI. The diaphragm and spermicides have been linked to causing the infection.
- The decrease in estrogen during menopause could also makes the body more vulnerable to a UTI
- Complications at birth in the urinary tract that caused urine to get backed up in the urethra are at a greater risk
- Catheter use to urinate can create a greater risk
- Kidney stones create an obstruction in the urinary tract and can contribute to a UTI
- Autoimmune diseases, diabetes or other causes for a decreased immune system have create a lower defense against fighting microorganisms that cause sickness and infection
- Having a procedure done on the urinary tract leaves the area vulnerable as well
When to See Your OBGYN
A urinary tract infection is not a condition to take lightly. Getting your gynecologist involved at the onset of symptoms is recommended. This way an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan can be put into effect right away meaning quicker healing and faster relief from these symptoms.
What to Expect During Your Women’s Specialist Visit
Your gynecologist will most likely collect a urine sample from you to conducts a urinalysis. The amount of red blood cells, white blood cells and bacteria will help determine the diagnosis. If harmful bacteria is found in your urine sample, further analysis will be conducted to decipher the specific strand of bacteria. Because different strands of bacteria react differently to different treatment methods, understanding the specific bacteria will be instrumental in the most effective treatment plan.
If you have seen your gynecologist more than once in a year for the same issue, your women’s doctor may order some imaging to look at your urinary tract closer to see if any abnormalities are present and are causing the frequent UTIs. Imaging can be performed using ultrasound, MRI or CT scan.
Using the doctor’s discretion, and depending on the amount of UTIs experienced, your gynecologist may feel that doing a cystoscopy would be most conclusive. A cystoscopy is a procedure performed by the gyn physician using a scope to that is attached to a long, thin tube through your urethra to examine inside the urethra and the bladder.
Treatment for a UTI
The treatment plan for a UTI will be determined by the specific infection, the severity of it and how often they come on.
For the woman who has the rare UTI, an antibiotic will more than likely be prescribed. Antibiotics are usually the first line of defense for combating a UTI. Based on the severity and the type of bacteria that was detected will result in the specific antibiotic that is recommended for treatment.
Symptoms should start to clear up within a few of days of taking the antibiotics. It is best to complete the medication as prescribed by your doctor to protect from the infection returning if the bacteria was not eliminated entirely.
For women who experience more frequent UTIs, the treatment plan may look a little different to accommodate your current health condition.
Your OBGYN may prescribe a protocol of a low-dose antibiotic over a longer period of time, such as six months instead of a few days or a week for an uncomplicated UTI.
For women who are sexually active and can correlate their UTI experiences to when they have had intercourse, the OBGYN may prescribe an antibiotic to ward off harmful bacteria after having sex.
For women who are in menopause who experience frequent UTIs, your OBGYN may prescribe a vaginal estrogen therapy to help balance out the hormones, provide protection against bacteria and to stabilize the frequency of UTIs.
If a UTI has gone untreated and/or the infection has spread farther into the urinary tract, the UTI may have elevated into a severe infection requiring medical attention in a hospital setting. This can also be determined by your OBGYN. The reason why this may be the best option is to provide continual observation of the infection and to also monitor the organs that could get infected or damaged, such as the kidneys, which are also part of the urinary tract.
Keep reading for more information and the risks involved in waiting too long to get a diagnosis and treatment for your UTI symptoms.
The Risk of Not Getting Proper Treatment for a UTI
If the symptoms of a UTI go overlooked or untreated for too long, there are some serious risks that may be associated, which include:
- Increased frequency of getting the infection
- Damage to the kidneys if the infection spreads farther into the urinary tract
- Premature births or low birth rate for pregnant women
- Sepsis, a condition in the body that is caused by an infection. When the body cannot respond to the changes occurring in the body this can lead to organ damage and be life threatening
Home Remedies to Help Ease the Discomfort as You Heal from a UTI
Urinary tract infections can be painful and affect many parts of the lower body, which also takes a toll on personal esteem and morale. Here are some remedies that you can try while you are at home waiting for the antibiotics to take effect.
Drink lots of water!
As with any imbalance, sickness, disease or infection in the body, water is the number one proponent to help aid in healing. The reason is your body is working overtime to fight and conquer the foreign invaders in the body. Water is the fuel source to keep the body hydrated and lubricated to make sure all the pieces of the infection-fighting army are working together. Plus, the water is used to flush out other toxins and bacteria from the body that could be taking away resources from the army focus on the infection.
Of course, with the constant drinking and increased urination, you are also cleaning out the actual area of the infection within the urinary tract as well. Plus, the water will dilute the acidity of the urine to help decrease the painful urination.
Speaking of acidic urine, avoid these drinks:
The goal is to get your urine to nice neutral zone to decrease the pain when urinating. Drinks that increase the acidity in urine, thus the pain, include alcohol, coffee, sodas, caffeinated drinks and juices. With a sensitive bladder as it is, these will only make matters worse, as well as increase your urge to have to urinate.
Apply a heating pad.
To help relieve the pressure from the bladder, applying a warm heating pad directly over the bladder may cause some relief.
Ask your doctor about over-the-counter pain relievers.
According to your current health, health history, diagnosis and treatment, check with your gynecologist to see if taking acetaminophen (more commonly known as Tylenol) or ibuprofen would be OK to help ease the pain and inflammation associated with the infection.
7 Ways to Prevent a UTI
Urinary tract infections are painful and uncomfortable, and if not treated in a timely manner, can cause serious consequences. Prevention of a sickness, disease or infection are important to keep you as healthy as possible. Here are some healthy habits to incorporate into your daily lifestyle to help keep a UTI at bay.
Drinking plenty of water will help increase the urination frequency. It may sound like an inconvenience, but the water will help to dilute the urine and to flush out bacteria from the urinary tract before it can cause an infection. It is important that when you have the urge to go to the bathroom that you listen to your body and relieve yourself often. Keeping a healthy flow of urine through your urinary tract will help to keep it clean.
This is essential to keeping bacteria at bay from the urethra. A habit to get into is to wipe from front to back. This will help to decrease the possibility of any bacteria from the GI system, which gets eliminated through a bowel movement, from coming in contact with the urethra.
Before and After Sex
For those who are sexually active, washing the genitalia area before having sex will help to remove any bacteria that may be there and to prevent it from spreading. After sex it is important to urinate to flush the area of any other bacteria that may be present, pushing it away from possible contact with the urethra. Drinking 8 oz of water after intercourse will also help to flush out bacteria as well. Using a condom is also helpful to prevent further contact with bacteria.
Decrease the Use of Feminine Products
Feminine products can sometimes cause adverse reactions to the sensitive area of the vagina. If irritation occurs from using scented powders, douches, deodorant sprays, etc., the area can become more vulnerable to infection if bacteria is present. Also, over washing the vagina can reduce the good bacteria which is essential to help ward off harmful the bacteria. The vaginal flora is the balance of good and harmful bacteria in the vagina. Doctors recommend not using douche or feminine washes as it may cause an imbalance in the flora, thus creating a more vulnerable environment for infection to occur.
Check Your Birth Control
As mentioned previously, certain types of birth control methods can make a woman more prone to getting UTIs. If you are currently using the diaphragm or spermicide contraceptives and have one or more UTIs, it may be best to talk to your OBGYN about switching birth control methods.
Take A Daily Probiotic
Probiotics help support good bacteria in your body. It is often used to increase gut health, or the gut flora, similar to vaginal flora, by balancing out the good and bad bacteria that is present. By increasing the good bacteria in your system, you are maintaining a stable environment and helping to ward off bad bacteria that could cause a UTI.
In particular for preventing UTIs, the probiotic called lactobacilli may be the most beneficial in helping with UTI prevention. This strain of bacteria is known for preventing bacteria from attaching to urinary tract cells, creating a strong antibacterial compound commonly known as hydrogen peroxide in the urine, which will kill bacteria on contact in the urethra area and in the bladder, and stabilizes the environment making it harder for harmful bacteria to live.
Probiotics can be taken in a pill form or it is naturally occurring in some foods such as yogurt, fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha, some cheese and in kefir (found in the dairy section at the market).
Adequate Vitamin C
Vitamin C is known as the immune boosting vitamin. If your immune system is low in defense, then your body will have a harder time fighting off infection. Vitamin C also functions to create nitrogen oxide in the urine which will kill bacteria. It also helps to lower the PH of the urine making it harder for bacteria to survive.
The daily recommended dose of vitamin C for women age 19 and older is 75 milligrams a day.
Before reaching for the bottle of cranberry juice, ponder this…
There is a myth that drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements help to prevent UTIs or to decrease the duration of a UTI if you have one. Looking closer at the facts from the studies conducted the efficacy of this tactic is not guaranteed with its conflicting results.
The reason this belief came to fruition is due to the finding that cranberries contain an active ingredient that can prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall, such as E. coli which is the predominant bacteria causing UTIs in the bladder.
Where the inconsistency comes in is in these studies:
One study was performed to see if women who had recurrent UTIs would experience a decrease in recurrence with cranberry supplements or juice opposed to women taking a placebo. The results concluded that those who supplemented with cranberry had decreased recurrences of the infection.
Another study concluded that cranberries were not effective at treating symptomatic UTIs but may be helpful to decrease the number of UTIs over a year timeframe.
In conclusion to the cranberry conundrum, there are no risks involved in taking the supplement or drinking the juice, just be wary of sugar content of the juice. Women are recommended to limit their sugar intake to 25 grams or 6 teaspoons a day.
Arizona Women’s Specialists Providing Top-Notch Care for Our Patients
North Valley Women’s Care is a highly-referred Glendale OBGYN providing generational women’s medical care from teens to seniors. Our all-female obstetrics and gynecology specialists provide comprehensive services for our patients with in-house procedures while working closely with your team of medical providers to co-manage your care.
We urge you to schedule an appointment with us right away if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a UTI as listed above. We provide extensive care with efficient and effective treatment protocols to get you living in optimal health. We are a women to women OBGYN. We listen to your needs and assess your situation in the comfort and privacy of our women’s health clinic. With you as our patient, you are made to feel like our top priority.