Many people pass off the concern of a urinary tract infection as a minor annoyance. Left untreated, a urinary tract infection can spread to the kidneys and cause serious complications.
The urinary system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. The most common urinary tract infections are those involving the bladder and urethra but infection can spread throughout the urinary track at any time.
Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enter the system through the urethra and multiply in the bladder. Because women have a shorter urethra than men, they are more at risk to develop the most common forms of urinary tract infections.
The most common urinary tract infection is cystitis (bladder infection). Cystitis is usually caused by E-coli bacteria and occurs in sexually active women; however it can also occur due to the closeness of the urethra to the anus and the short distance between the openings of the urethra to the bladder.
Bacteria spread from the anus to the urethra can also lead to urethritis (infection of the urethra). Other possible causes of infections involving the urethra include sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes, HIV, or chlamydia.
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections
Not all urinary tract infections will cause noticeable symptoms. In the case of minor infections the body has a good chance of clearing the infection without any consequences. A more severe infection or a chronic infection that spreads throughout the urinary tract may cause symptoms. Any symptoms should be reported to your doctor for evaluation and treatment.
• Some signs or symptoms of a urinary tract infection may include:
• Changes in the color, amounts, or odor of your urine
• At pink or dark cola-color indicates blood in the urine
• Cloudy urine
• Painful or burning urination
• Women may experience pelvic pain
• Men may experience rectal pain
• Frequent urges to urinate, yet passing small amounts
When caught early, urinary tract infections are easily treated with antibiotics. Ignoring symptoms or experiencing prolonged or frequent urinary tract infections can lead to more serious infections of the kidneys which if left untreated can cause permanent damage. Urinary tract infections are easily overlooked or misdiagnosed in older adults. Always bring any unusual symptoms or concerns to your doctor’s attention. Request urine tests if you feel your concerns are being dismissed.
Treatment with antibiotics usually starts taking affect within two or three days, but it is important to continue taking all the medications as directed until they are completed. Stopping the prescribed amount of antibiotics to soon may lead to a reoccurrence of the infection and can also cause your system to build a tolerance interfering with the effectiveness of future antibiotic treatments.
Steps to Lower Your Risk of Urinary Tract Infections
You can significantly lower your risk of urinary tract infections by keeping a few lifestyle tips in mind.
• Always drink plenty of water. Adequate hydration dilutes the urine and assures you will urinate more frequently which gives bacteria less chance of remaining in the urethra.
• Following a bowel movement, always wipe front to back to prevent bacteria from spreading from the rectum to the urethra and vagina.
• Whenever possible, empty your bladder after sexual intercourse. This will help flush bacteria before they have time to spread to the urethra and cause potential infection.
• Some feminine products such as powders or sprays can irritate the urethra and make it prone to infection. If you use such products and notice any itching or irritation, wash the area immediately and discontinue using such products.
You may have heard that drinking cranberry juice can help prevent urinary tract infections. Studies have showed mixed results of these claims. Women who have frequent urinary tract infections often do report less frequent infections when drinking cranberry juice regularly. Most people can certainly drink cranberry juice without any risk of complications.
* Individuals taking the blood thinner warfarin should not drink cranberry juice as it may cause excess bleeding.
Urinary Tract Infection, (n.d.) Mayo Clinic-online, Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/urinary-tract-infection/DS00286