The urinary tract is comprised of the two kidneys, two ureters, bladder and urethra. An urinary tract infection ('UTI') can involve the bladder ('cystitis') or the kidneys ('pyelonephritis'). Pyelonephritis is a more serious infection than cystitis but thankfully it is less common. Women of reproductive age group are the most susceptible to UTI but no age or gender is immune.
The symptoms include frequent urination, burning sensation while passing urine, lower abdominal or pelvic pain in cystitis. High temperature with chills, vomiting and pain over the abdominal flanks are present in pyelonephritis. Some simple steps can help prevent UTIs.
1. Proper toilet hygiene
A 'front to back' method of cleaning up after passing stools will avoid the bacteria from rectum getting access to the bladder. It would be prudent not to use a toilet paper twice.
2. Get 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 obstetrician should generally eradicate the bacteria. This will help in preventing more serious infections later in the pregnancy.
3. Prefer sanitary napkins over tampons
Tampons might be more friendly towards the infection causing bacteria than sanitary napkins. If one has to use tampons, then remove them before urinating.
4. Don't suppress the urge to urinate
The longer urine lies stagnant in the bladder, the better it is for bacterial growth. On the other hand passing urine every few minutes is impractical. A golden rule is to not suppress the urge to pass urine. Urinating once every 2-3 hours during day should be a reasonable frequency.
5. After sexual intercourse
Sexual intercourse has the potential to provide the bacteria access to the urinary system. Voiding immediately after intercourse helps 'flush out' the germs that might have gained access.
6. Reconsider contraception
Some contraceptive methods like diaphragms and spermicidal jellies increase the likelihood of contracting a UTI. Discuss the pros and cons with your doctor if you are using one of these.
7. Use loose garments
A dry vaginal area is a deterrent to bacterial growth. Tight fitting clothes, undergarments made of non-breathable fabrics promote bacterial growth by increasing moisture in the area. Avoid them !
8. If post menopausal consider need for estrogen cream
Post menopausal status might predispose to bladder infections because of changes in the vaginal skin. Consult your doctor if estrogen creams might benefit you.
9. Cranberry juice is probably helpful
Cranberry juice contains chemicals called proanthocyanidins which decrease the stickiness of bacteria to the bladder wall. While not conclusively proven, cranberry juice probably helps prevent UTI in young women.
10. Control blood sugars if you are diabetic
Diabetics are one of the groups worst affected by UTIs. The infections can be severe and sometimes life threatening in this particular group. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels over long periods increase the risk of such infections. Meticulous attention to good blood sugar control should decrease the risk significantly.
In-spite of above measures sometimes one may get a UTI occasionally. Recognise the symptoms and see your doctor immediately. You will probably need a short course of antibiotics followed by a reinforcement of the preventive measures!