If you’re female, you can almost count on experiencing at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) in your lifetime, if not many more.
The rate of UTI has been shown to be 0.7 percent per woman per year.
Luckily, UTIs are relatively easy to prevent and treat, and under most circumstances they’re not serious. Let’s take a look at what causes this irritating affliction and what you can do about it.
Up to 95 percent of UTIs are caused by E. coli bacteria, although rarer microbes or bacteria occasionally are to blame. The term “urinary tract infection” is a bit of a misnomer because symptoms aren’t felt until the infection has actually settled into your bladder.
UTIs are an ascending infection. They usually start in the vaginal skin around the urethra and ascend into the urinary tract.
Although your urinary tract always contains bacteria, most of it is released from your body through your urine stream. It’s only when harmful bacteria are allowed to sit and colonize that problems occur.
It’s usually within 24 hours of bacteria inhabiting the bladder that women start to feel the symptoms. Such symptoms include a burning sensation during urination, more frequent urination or a false sense of urgency to urinate. Blood in the urine and pelvic pain are less common symptoms.
Who’s most at risk?
Factors such as age and lifestyle can increase your likelihood of getting a UTI.
Around 5 to 10 percent of cases involve girls age 10 or younger. In young girls, the most common cause of UTIs is poor wiping habits after urination. When taught to wipe front to back, younger girls have a reduced risk of contaminating the vaginal area with E. coli bacteria.
Among sexually active girls and women, intercourse can introduce bacteria that proceed up the urinary tract. Later in life, women are again at heightened risk, especially if they are periodically incontinent or unable to feel or express the symptoms of UTI.
The first—and easiest—way to reduce your UTI risk is to drink lots of water.
Stay well hydrated. You want your urinary system to run like a river, not sit like a pond. When you drink water, it makes your urine run clear. If not, your urine sits and collects ‘pond scum’.
Hydration alone will clear up approximately 50 percent of infections. Some women get UTIs when they travel abroad because they avoid local water.
Drinking cranberry juice is an oft-touted way of preventing UTIs, with some research suggesting that substances in the juice can help curtail the E. coli bacteria’s capability to grow and multiply. But mainstream medical organizations haven’t endorsed cranberry juice as an evidence-based preventive measure.
Doctors have noted that they are not opposed to cranberry juice, but they caution that it’s not the Holy Grail that people think it’s supposed to be.
Other ways that you can help reduce your risk for UTIs include:
- If you’re sexually active, void your bladder soon after having sex.
- If you’re diabetic, keep your blood sugar under control so that your urine has as little sugar as possible, since E. coli bacteria feed on sugar.
Again, water is your first line of defense.
Try drinking lots of water for the first 24 hours after experiencing symptoms to flush out the bacteria.
If there’s no improvement in your symptoms, it’s time to contact your medical provider. A standard round of antibiotics should alleviate the symptoms after a couple of days. But be sure to finish the full course of treatment, because bacteria can lurk in your system even after symptoms fade.
Most important, don’t hesitate to revisit your doctor for an evaluation if your symptoms don’t improve. Being complacent can allow your infection to worsen into more serious kidney problems, or lead to a missed diagnosis if your symptoms are a sign of something other than a UTI.