A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system. In most cases, infections happen in the lower urinary tract which consists of the bladder and the urethra. 

Know Your Urinary Tract

The main function of your urinary tract is to make and store urine. A urinary tract infection can affect any part of the urinary tract and it comprises of:

  • Kidneys: These small paired organs are located in the lower backside of your body, just above the hips. The function of your kidneys is to filter waste and water from your blood and expel it from the body in the form of urine. 
  • Ureters: These are two tubes, that carry urine from the kidneys to your bladder.
  • Bladder: The urinary bladder, is a muscular sac-like container, that stores your urine before it leaves the body.
  • Urethra: This thin, muscular tube carries the urine from your bladder outside the body.

While UTIs are common in all, women of the reproductive age group (15 to 45 years) are more susceptible to it.

Experts suggest that every 1 in 2 women is likely to have recurrent UTI infections, while about 1 in 10 men will get it at least once in their lifetime.

Causes and Symptoms of UTI

UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder. The bacteria may also travel up to the kidneys. 

Female anatomy and sexual activities are the two main risk factors of urinary tract infections. Women have shorter urethras than men, which makes it easier for bacteria to get to their bladders. 

Common symptoms of UTIs include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Burning sensation while passing urine
  • A strong and persistent need to urinate
  • Urine that appears cloudy, red or bright pink
  • Fever with chills, vomiting, and pain over the abdominal flanks in case of severe infection

Diagnosis and Treatment of UTI

Your doctor will conduct a urine test to check for the presence of bacteria in your urine. 

If your doctor suspects an abnormality in your urinary tract, an ultrasound, a CT (Computer Tomography) scan, or an MRI (Magnetic Resource Imaging) scan might be done to take a closer look. 

Your doctor will mostly prescribe antibiotics for the treatment of urinary tract infections and may suggest simple preventive tips.

Preventive Tips For UTI

A few common tips to prevent UTIs are:

1. Follow Proper Toilet Hygiene.

A 'front to back' method of cleaning up after passing stools will avoid the bacteria from the rectum getting access to your bladder. It would be prudent not to use toilet paper twice. 

2. Don't Suppress Your Urge to Urinate.

The longer urine lies stagnant in your bladder, the more are the chances of bacterial growth. On the other hand, passing urine, every few minutes is also impractical. 

The golden rule is to not suppress the urge to pass urine. Urinating once every 2 to 3 hours during the day is considered as an ideal frequency.

3. Urinate Right After Sexual Intercourse

Sexual intercourse increases the chances of bacteria entering your urinary system. 

Urinating immediately after intercourse helps flush out the germs that might have gained access to your urinary tract. 

4. Control Your Blood Sugar If You Are Diabetic

Diabetes is a chronic condition where your blood sugar levels are abnormally high. It increases the risk of urinary tract infections. 

The infections can be severe and sometimes life-threatening in this particular group. Meticulous attention to good blood sugar control should decrease the risk significantly.

5. Drink Plenty of Fluids

It is recommended to drink approximately 2 to 3 litres of water per day to keep yourself well hydrated. 

Drinking water helps dilute your urine and ensures that you'll urinate more frequently, allowing bacteria to be flushed from your urinary tract, reducing the risk of infection.

Certain tips that women must exclusively follow to prevent UTIs are:

1. Getting Screened During Pregnancy

Harmful bacteria may be present in the urinary tract without causing any symptoms during pregnancy. It is a routine practice to screen for bacteria in urine in early pregnancy. 

A course of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor should generally eradicate the bacteria. This will help in preventing more serious infections later in the pregnancy.

2. Choosing Sanitary Napkins Over Tampons

It is better to choose sanitary napkins over tampons during menstruation. As tampons are inserted into the vagina, it increases the risk of bacterial growth if worn for long hours. 

3. Wearing Loose Well-Fitting Garments

Tight-fitting clothes or undergarments made of non-breathable fabrics promote bacterial growth by increasing moisture in the area. 

It is best for women to avoid them and choose soft cotton underpants that are comfortable.

4. Choosing Contraception Carefully

Birth control, also called contraception, are devices or medications taken by women to prevent pregnancy. Some contraceptive methods like diaphragms and spermicidal jellies increase the likelihood of contracting a UTI. 

It is advisable to discuss the pros and cons of the contraception methods, if you use any, with your doctor before choosing one.

5. Considering Estrogen Creams Post-Menopause

Menopause is the natural cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Usually, women experience menopause between 45 and 55 years of age. 

As menopause nears, the ovaries (primary female reproductive organ) of a woman make less of a hormone called estrogen. 

A lack of estrogen can lead to a dry vagina and increase the risk of UTIs in women. Consulting a gynaecologist for using estrogen creams can help post-menopausal women prevent UTIs. 

In spite of the above measures, sometimes you may get a UTI occasionally. In such cases, recognize the symptoms and consult your doctor immediately. 

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.