A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), characterized by burning, cramping, and urgency to urinate is common in girls and women and can lead to serious medical conditions if not properly treated. The bacterial infection is 10 times more common in females and will afflict 1 out of 2 women in their lifetime. Reoccurrence rates of infection are high as well, with 30-40% of second UTI’s occurring within 6 months of an original infection. This may be due to ineffective initial treatment or the introduction of different bacteria to the urinary tract. The urinary tract involves both of the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder and the urethra.
Signs and Symptoms of UTI Infection
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection vary by individual and may include:
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Frequent urination
- Urgency to urinate
- Bloody or cloudy urine
- Cramping/pain in the lower abdomen
- Fever or chills
- Bad odor in urine
- Painful intercourse
- Nausea and vomiting
Types of Urinary Tract Infections
Cystitis—This is infection of the bladder and is generally caused by E. coli bacteria found it the gastrointestinal tract. It may also be caused by sexual intercourse or bacteria transferred from the anus to the urethra by wiping incorrectly (from back to front).
Urethritis—This is infection of the urethra caused by bacteria transfer from the anus to the urethra. It may also be caused by a sexually transmitted infection including herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and mycoplasma.
Male Urinary Tract Infections
Most of the time, UTI’s in men are caused by an obstruction such as an enlarged prostate or a kidney stone. They may also be caused from recent catheter use. Treatment requires identifying the root cause and the proper antibiotic.
Prostate infections such as, chronic bacterial prostatitis (infected prostate tissue) is difficult to treat and requires long-term focused treatment with specific antibiotics.
What causes a urinary tract infection?
A typical UTI occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract and begin to multiply. Most microscopic organisms enter through the urethra and rapidly grow in the bladder. Although the body is generally good at defending against these invaders, occasionally pathogens do reach the urinary tract, infecting the tissues.
UTI Risk Factors
There are several factors that put individuals at risk for contracting a UTI.
Anatomy of females—Girls and women have a shorter urethra compared to that of men. Because of this, bacteria have a much shorter distance to travel to reach the bladder. The close proximity of the anus to the urethra also makes females more vulnerable to urinary tract infections. (This is why women and girls are encouraged to wipe front to back).
Sexual activity—Sexual activity increases the risk of urinary tract infection in women. Exposure to bacteria in and around the urethra during sexual activity increases the risk of a UTI.
Feminine products—Some deodorants, powders, sprays and douches cause irritation to the vaginal area making it vulnerable to UTI infection.
Diaphragms or spermicidal agents—Women who use these birth control methods increase their risk of contracting a UTI.
Menopause—Changes in estrogen levels make the urinary tract more vulnerable to infection.
Incontinence—An increase in urine and bacteria exposed to the urethra can cause more frequent UTI’s.
Abnormal urinary tract—Individuals born with the inability to void urine naturally are at risk for causing a back up of urine into the urethra.
Blockages in the urinary tract (in males) —An enlarged prostate and kidney stones both cause blockages that can trap urine in the bladder.
A compromised immune system—Many diseases including diabetes can weaken the body’s immune system.
Using a catheter—Individuals who must urinate with the use of a catheter because of paralysis, hospitalization, or a neurobiological condition are at increased risk for UTI infections.
Urinary surgery/procedure—Those who undergo surgery (or a medical procedure) involving the urinary tract increase their risk of a urinary tract infection.
How do doctor’s diagnose a UTI?
Physicians order an initial urinalysis to analyze any bacteria in the urine.
If symptoms persist or severe kidney infection is present, additional tests may be ordered.
These may include, a computed tomography (CT) scan, MRI, ultrasound, or cystoscopy, which examines the inside of the bladder with a special instrument.
What if I don’t treat a urinary tract infection?
If a UTI is not properly treated it can lead to:
- Recurrent infections
- Permanent kidney damage
- Low birth weight or premature baby
- Urethra narrowing in men
Treatment Options for Urinary Tract Infections
Antibiotics—Treatment with antibiotics is common for UTI’s without complications.
The following may be prescribed for short periods:
- Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra, others)
- Fosfomycin (Monurol)
- Nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid)
- Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
- Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
- Cephalexin (Keflex)
- Ceftriaxone (Rocephin)
- Azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax)
*Though symptoms may disappear after 2 to 3 days, it is important to complete the full course of treatment to cure the infection. A follow-up urinalysis may be ordered after antibiotics are completed.
Hospitalization—Hospitalization with IV antibiotics may be necessary for severe infections affecting the kidneys.
Low dose daily antibiotics—Chronic/recurring urinary tract infections in women may require ongoing treatment for UTI. Physicians may prescribe a low dose of antibiotics to be taken daily for a 6-month period or longer. They may also prescribe antibiotics for 2-3 days when symptoms appear, or a single dose after sexual intercourse.
Natural Treatment For Urinary Tract Infections
Natural treatments for UTI’s can be categorized as, diuretics that stimulate urination, acid-producing agents that create an unfriendly environment for bacteria, and remedies that provide comfort for painful symptoms.
Diuretics promote a greater need for urination, which flushes bacteria from the urinary tract. Natural diuretics include:
- Parsley water
- Celery seeds
Because bacterium contain tiny fimbria or (hair-like) follicles, some foods or drinks affect the ability of bacteria to stick to the lining of the urinary tract by creating an acidic environment.
Acidic agents include:
- Cranberry juice
- Cream of tartar and lemon
The following may provide comfort or pain relief from symptoms:
- Heating pad on lower abdomen
- Baking soda mixed with water (makes urine less acidic to decrease stinging sensation during urination)
- Ginger tea-acts as an inflammatory agent
Herbs and Natural Supplements
Herbs and natural supplements may provide healing support as anti-inflammatory agents, anti-microbials, or pain relievers. These include:
- Apis mellifica
- Nux vomica
- Grapefruit seed
- Cat’s claw
How To Prevent A Urinary Tract Infection
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day
- Urinate immediately following sexual intercourse
- Urinate often, as soon as the urge to go hits
- Females should keep perennial area clean and wipe front to back
- Do not engage in sexual activity with a UTI
- Drink cranberry juice
- Change birth control methods if diaphragm or spermicide causes infection.
- Do not use feminine products with heavy perfumes/irritants
About half of all women will experience at least one urinary tract infection in their lifetime. Fortunately, bacteria can be neutralized, and painful symptoms effectively managed with antibiotic treatment and natural health supplementation. Treatment for UTI’s is critical since infection can lead to permanent kidney damage, or a life-threatening condition.
5 Urinary tract infection in adults (2016) Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/urologic-disease/urinary-tract-infections-in-adults/Pages/facts.aspx (Accessed: 13 October 2016).