A urinary tract infection, also known as UTI is an infection that is localized in the urinary system such as the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Urinary tract infections typically occur when bacteria or tiny microbes enter and travel up the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder. Although the urinary system is designed to produce waste products and keep out such microscopic invaders, these defenses sometimes fail. When that happens, bacteria may take hold and grow into a full-blown infection in the urinary tract. Most infections take place in the lower urinary tract which is the bladder and the urethra which are common in women, and many women even experience more than one infection during their lifetimes.
Risk factors specific for UTIs in women:
- Female anatomy. Women are at a greater risk of developing UTI than are men because of the anatomical differences in urethra length between men and women. Women have a significantly shorter urethra than men, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder.
- Sexual activity. Sexually active women tend to have more UTIs than do women who aren't sexually active as this causes a woman’s urethra to come in contact with bacteria from the genitals and anus. Having a new sexual partner also increases your risk of infection.
- Certain types of birth control. The vagina naturally contains good bacteria that help keep the vagina healthy and the pH level balanced however, some birth control products, can destroy this good bacteria which can disrupt the natural balance of the vagina and cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. As a result, women who use diaphragms for birth control may be at a higher risk, as well as women who use spermicidal agents.
- After menopause, a decline in circulating estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract that make you more vulnerable to infection.
COMPLICATIONS OF A UTI
When treated promptly and properly, lower urinary tract infections rarely lead to complications. But when left untreated, a urinary tract infection can have serious consequences.
Some complications of a UTI may include:
- Recurrent infections, especially in women who experience two or more UTIs in a six-month period or four or more within a year.
- Permanent kidney damage from an acute or chronic kidney infection (pyelonephritis) due to an untreated UTI.
- Increased risk in pregnant women of delivering low birth weight or premature infants.
- Urethral narrowing (stricture) in men from recurrent urethritis, previously seen with gonococcal urethritis – infection of the urethra caused by gonorrhea.
- Sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection, especially if the infection works its way up your urinary tract to your kidneys.
Simple self-care activities to avoid Urinary Tract Infection or UTI
Infection limited to your bladder can be painful and annoying and serious consequences can occur if a UTI spreads to your kidneys. However, doctors typically treat urinary tract infections with antibiotics. But you can take steps to reduce your chances of getting a UTI in the first place.
Some steps to reduce risk of developing urinary tract infections:
- Stay Hydrated. Drink plenty of liquids, especially water. Drinking water helps dilute your urine and ensures that you'll urinate more frequently. The more often you empty your bladder, the more your urinary tract and urethra get flushed. This will help eliminate harmful bacteria before it has a chance to reach your bladder and cause an infection.
- Practice Good Hygiene. Women are taught from an early age the importance of wiping from front to back for a reason. Doing so after urinating and after a bowel movement helps prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the urinary tract, vagina and urethra.
- Empty your bladder soon after intercourse.Urinating immediately after sexual intercourse will reduce the chances of developing a urinary tract infection. Don’t worry about running off to the bathroom right away, just make sure that you do so in a timely manner to get any bacteria flushed out before it reaches your bladder.
- Avoid potentially irritating feminine products.Using deodorant sprays or other feminine products, such as douches and powders, in the genital area can irritate the urethra.
Tip: Scented ones are more irritating than unscented ones.
- Re-evaluate your birth control method.Diaphragms, or unlubricated or spermicide-treated condoms, can all contribute to bacterial growth. It’s best to see your doctor about using a more UTI-friendly birth control method.
Basic self-care kit for early detection of a urinary tract infection
You can buy UTI dipstick tests at your local drugstore or online.
They work much like a pregnancy test: Each kit comes with a testing strip (usually three to a kit)
- Collect urine in a clean cup and dip the strip for 2-3 seconds into the sample.
- Tap the excess urine against the rim of the specimen container or a paper towel.
- Wait 1 to 2 minutes for the color of the test strip to change. Match the resulting color to the color chart indicated on the test kit to find out if you’ve tested positive for a UTI.
Home test kits might be useful if you have UTIs that keep coming back. They check for white blood cells and bacteria in the urine. But the results can be affected by a number of things, like medications you’re taking. However, studies show that urine cultures are far more reliable for showing whether you have a UTI.
RED FLAG! TIME TO SEE A DOCTOR
The moment you start experiencing symptoms for urinary tract infection, see a doctor. A proper diagnosis from a urologist will be needed before you can proceed with a treatment plan depending on your condition.
Some signs and symptoms indicating a urinary tract infection:
- Painful urination
- Burning sensation during urination
- Strong, frequent urge to urinate regardless of output
- Dark or Cloudy urine
- Bloody urine
- Urine with a strong odor
- Pelvic pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen
- Fever or chills (a sign that infection may have reached the kidneys)
Urinary tract infections typically occur when bacteria or tiny microbes enter and travel up the urinary tract through the urethra and multiply in the bladder. Unfortunately it’s a common infection especially among women. UTIs are treatable, but there are also some simple ways to prevent it. However, when UTIs are developed, this can be painful and annoying and even pose complications and greater problems. So early detection is key in treating it. Home test kits for UTIs are available over-the-counter which are useful especially if UTIs keep coming back. Nevertheless, it is still ideal to see a doctor no matter what your home test reveals.