Recognizing Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms
UTI: do any other three letters cause such dread? Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are an extremely common ailment, and anyone who’s suffered through one can attest to how miserable they can make your life.
Women are far more prone to getting a UTI than men. In fact, nearly half of all women will contract one at some point in their life. While UTIs are uncommon in men, they can also get them.
While UTIs are painful and can cause misery, they are treatable, and luckily, there are many treatment options available. However, if left untreated, they can spread to your kidneys and become dangerous. It's important to be able to recognize urinary tract infection symptoms so they can be caught and treated early on.
What Is a UTI?
A UTI is exactly what it sounds like: an infection in the urinary system, meaning the bladder, urethra, kidneys, or ureter. Common bacteria found in and around the body, such as E. Coli, can cause an infection and painful symptoms when they enter the urinary tract.
If you’ve heard of bladder infections and wonder how these differ from UTIs, a bladder infection is simply a type of UTI that is localized in the bladder.
A UTI develops when bacteria makes its way into the urinary tract. There are many ways that this can happen.
One of the reason women are so prone to UTIs is due to their anatomy, with the urethra close to the anus. Bacteria from the anus is easily able to migrate into the urethra and up into the bladder, and eventually into the kidneys if not stopped beforehand.
Another possible cause of the spread of bacteria is sexual activity. An infection in the urethra can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections (gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes, among others).
Certain birth control methods like diaphragms can also be to blame, as can spermicidal agents which can increase the risk of infection.
Less common causes include anatomical abnormalities of the urinary tract, blockages in the tract, recent medical procedures or exams of the affected area, or a suppressed immune system that leaves you unable to fight off bacteria.
Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms
The telltale symptoms of UTIs are usually unmistakable and can come on suddenly. The hallmark symptoms is pain when urinating, accompanied by lower abdomen/pelvic achiness and discomfort.
If your infection is localized in the bladder, you may feel this discomfort coupled with the sensation of urgently needing to pee. You may find yourself having to go often, despite the pain.
With infections in the urethra, you will feel a harsh burning with urination and may have discharge as well.
If an infection moves into the kidneys, you may feel intense upper/middle back and side pain and achiness, and may develop a fever, chills, nausea, or even vomiting. A more intense infection will likely bring a higher fever and worsened symptoms.
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How to Prevent UTIs
Once you’ve experienced a UTI, you’ll want to do everything in your power to prevent yourself from getting another one. Luckily, there are quite a few preventative steps.
Keeping clean goes a long way, as does wearing underwear and shorts/pants that are made with breathable fabric. Don’t stay in sweaty or wet clothes for extended amounts of time, and make sure to stay dry and clean whenever possible.
Females should avoid wiping back to front after using the bathroom; front to back is important to minimize the spread of bacteria into the vaginal area.
Contrary to popular belief, scented feminine product such as douches and cleansers can actually be harmful to the body and can cause irritation that can lead to an UTI.
If you suspect your birth control methods are to blame, stay away from diaphragms or condoms that are either coated with spermicide or are unlubricated.
Keeping hydrated is key to preventing and treating existing UTIs. Make sure you’re drinking lots of water. This will help you urinate more and flush out your urinary tract. Cranberry juice has also been a long-touted home remedy for prevention and treatment, and can’t hurt to add in. Don’t feel like sipping cranberry juice? A great alternative is taking D-Mannose, a supplement made of the active ingredient found in cranberry juice, but in pill form. This can help flush the bacteria from the urinary tract and help prevent and help treat a UTI.
Another key step to is urinate both before and after sexual intercourse, to keep the urinary tract flushed out.
When to See a Doctor
Unfortunately, in many causes, once a UTI rears its head it’s likely too late to fight it off naturally, so medical care will be required.
Your doctor will likely perform a simple urinary test to diagnose your infection as a UTI, and often will prescribe you an antibiotic. Make sure to follow your doctor's instructions and take your full prescription of antibiotics, though the worst of the symptoms will likely clear up within a day or two.
Getting treatment early is crucial so that the infection doesn’t have time to migrate to the kidneys. If you’re a frequent sufferer of UTIs, as many women tend to be, you may need to see a specialist who can try to diagnose the underlying cause and prescribe more nuanced treatment.