What causes UTIs?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is caused by bacteria or other germs that live in your urethra. These bacteria are usually harmless but if they multiply too much they can lead to inflammation of the bladder wall, which may become infected. A UTI is not always painful and sometimes it goes away without treatment. Sometimes it takes several days before symptoms appear again. Symptoms include:
Painful burning feeling during urination
Urge to pass water or stool immediately after passing urine (urine urgency)
Discharge from the bladder (dark colored urine) – this may be bloody or cloudy, or it may be clear and odorless. You will need to wash with soap and water afterwards. If you have any doubts about whether your urine is dark colored, ask someone else to look at it.
Bloody or cloudy urine
Fever, chills, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Your body may feel very weak and tired.
The most common type of UTI is called cystitis. Cysts are small sacs filled with fluid inside the kidneys (urethral tubes). They form because of blockage of the ureters (the tubes that carry urine out of your kidney).
Cystitis is sometimes called a bladder infection.
Prevalence of cystitis
UTIs are more common in women than men because the urethra is shorter in women. The distance that urine must travel from the bladder to the outside world is shorter, so bacteria has less distance to travel to cause an infection. Bacteria are also more likely to enter the bladder since the genitals of women in closer contact with one another than those of men during toilet use.
How to prevent cystitis
You can reduce your risk of getting a UTI by following some basic rules:
Go to the bathroom often and try to empty your bladder completely before you go again. Empty your bladder after having sexual contact, especially if you experience penetration or ejaculation.
Urinate soon after having sexual contact.
Do not hold your urine for long periods of time.
Drink plenty of liquids, at least 1.5 to 2 litres (6 to 8 glasses) of fluid every day. You may need more if you are running a fever or are exposed to cold temperature.
Do not drink less than six glasses of fluid every day.
Do not hold your stool for long periods of time. Try to go at least every two days. Stool that sits in the rectum may leak around the outside of the bowel and irritate the urethra.
Do not use products such as vaginal deodorant tampons, douches or spermicides. They can cause irritation and lead to cystitis.
Eat plenty of fiber (whole grains, fruits and vegetables). Adding bulk to the stool helps it pass more easily and decreases the likelihood of irritating the urethra.
If you have a partner, make sure they are not the source of the infection. If you are not sexually active or are in a monogamous relationship, get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Do not hold in your bowel movements.
Exercise to improve the strength of your pelvic muscles.
Try taking cranberry tablets daily. You can also try drinking a glass of unsweetened cranberry juice every day. You will need to drink at least one cup per day, but no more than four cups.
Cranberry products can interact with certain medications, so be sure to talk to your doctor before taking them.
How to diagnose cystitis
If you have the symptoms described above and they last for more than a few days or come back again and again, you should see your doctor. Your doctor will take a medical history and give you a physical exam. You will be asked when your symptoms started, how often they are occurring and whether you have had similar symptoms in the past.
You will be asked to pass urine in a cup so it can be tested.
Your urine will be sent to a laboratory to look for evidence of infection. You may have to provide a urine sample directly into the lab technician’s hands. In these cases, your doctor or nurse may provide you with the container to collect the sample yourself, or they may provide a container and take it from you directly.
Your doctor may also perform a test called a urinalysis. The urinalysis will be used to look for evidence of infection. It is not completely reliable on its own.
For example, if you are infected with a mild strain of bacteria, the urinalysis may not show a positive result. If the results of the test are negative and your symptoms continue, this does not rule out an infection.
In some cases, your doctor may take a swab of your urethra to test for bacteria or other germs. This is generally not necessary if the results of other tests are positive.
If you have a fever, vomiting and diarrhea, you may have an infection in your urinary tract or elsewhere in your body. Your urine may also be tested for blood, pus, and other signs of infection.
Your doctor will give you a prescription for an antibiotic. While you are waiting for your test results, you will probably start taking the medication to see if it improves your symptoms.
Sometimes cystitis can be a sign of a more serious condition such as interstitial cystitis, which is a chronic inflammation and irritation of the bladder. Your doctor will talk to you about your medical history and give you a physical exam to determine the best treatment plan for you.
Treatment of cystitis
If you have a mild case of cystitis, your doctor may prescribe an over-the-counter pain reliever and advise you to drink plenty of fluids. As long as the cause of the cystitis is identified and treated, you should start to feel better in a couple of days.
In more serious cases of cystitis, you will be prescribed antibiotics to kill the infection-causing bacteria.
If you have a serious form of cystitis, you may require hospitalization and stronger intravenous antibiotics. You will also be closely monitored to ensure that the proper treatment is given and that your illness does not become any more severe.
A common cause of a more serious case of cystitis is a urinary catheter, which is a tube inserted into your bladder to allow urine to drain out of your body. Catheters can sometimes allow harmful bacteria to enter your urinary tract. Your doctor will take steps to prevent and identify a urinary catheter infection.
Once you start feeling better, your doctor may advise you to continue taking an antibiotic for one full menstrual cycle to prevent a relapse. You should also make an appointment with your gynecologist to have your contraceptive device replaced.
How can cystitis be prevented?
There is no way to completely prevent cystitis. However, you can reduce your risk of getting a urinary tract infection by not holding your urine too long. This will help prevent any bacteria from settling in your bladder.
You should also drink plenty of fluids every day. Most health care professionals advise women to drink at least eight glasses of water or other fluid each day. If you are prone to urine infections, drinking even more than this may help to flush out your system and keep it free of harmful bacteria.
If you exercise and find that it leads to urine retention, you should try to urinate during or after your workout. It’s best to avoid dehydrating yourself.
You should also make sure you wipe from front to back after a bowel movement. This will prevent bacteria from the rectum from contaminating the urethra.
Finally, you may want to try avoiding vaginal sprays and deodorants, as these can lead to more irritation and infection in the urethra.
If you think you are getting a urinary tract infection, you should contact your doctor immediately. Do not try to self-medicate as this could lead to a more serious health issue.
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