If you have ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you don’t want to have another one. Is it caused by having sex? How about wearing a wet bathing suit? Does drinking cranberry juice help? Washington University primary care specialist Kirsten Brandt, MD, takes a closer look at what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to causes, prevention and treatment for this very common type of infection.
• Burning feeling when you urinate
• Frequent or intense urge to urinate, even though little comes out when you do
• Pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen
• Cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange-smelling urine
• Feeling tired or shaky
• Fever or chills (a sign the infection may have reached your kidneys)
Dr. Brandt says, “True UTIs are caused by one source: bacteria. Even though bacteria are present in the human body all the time, there are some things that people do that can increase the chance bacteria will travel to the bladder – causing an infection.”
UTIs are a key reason we're told to wipe from front to back after using the bathroom. That's because the urethra -- the tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body -- is located close to the anus.
Bacteria from the large intestine, such as E. coli, are in the perfect position to migrate from the GI tract and invade the urethra. From there, they can travel up into the bladder, and if the infection isn't treated, may continue on to infect the kidneys.
WAYS TO PREVENT A UTI
Dr. Brandt explains, “If you are a woman, your chance of getting a UTI is high. This is partly because a woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s, so the bacteria have less distance to travel before it causes a problem. Some experts believe a woman’s lifetime risk of getting a UTI is as high as 50%. There are several ways you can decrease your chance of getting a UTI, in addition to always wiping from front to back, especially if you seem to be prone to infections. They include:
Empty your bladder frequently as soon as you feel the need to go; don't rush, and be sure you've emptied your bladder completely.
Drink plenty of water – your urine should be pale yellow.
Choose showers over baths.
Stay away from feminine hygiene sprays, douches, and scented or colored bath products -- they'll only increase irritation.
Cleanse your genital area before sex.
Urinate after sex to flush away any bacteria that may have entered your urethra.
If you use a diaphragm, lubricated condoms, or spermicidal jelly for birth control, consider switching to another method. Diaphragms can increase bacteria growth, while lubricated condoms and spermicides can cause irritation.”
A FEW COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS
Wearing wet or tight clothes will cause a UTI: According to Dr. Brandt, “Some people believe that wearing wet bathing suits or tight clothes will cause a UTI. The truth is that while this can increase the spread of bacteria because moisture can be trapped, it will NOT cause an infection. Underwear with a cotton crotch is also recommended.”
Bad hygiene can cause a UTI: This is not true. You will not get a UTI from not showering regularly, nor can you get one from close contact from someone with poor hygiene.
Men don’t get UTIs: While more common in women, it is still possible for a man to have a UTI. A woman’s urethra is much shorter than a man’s, which means the bacteria has a much shorter journey into the bladder.
Drinking cranberry juice will prevent or treat a UTI: Studies on the effectiveness of cranberry juice for preventing or treating UTIs have produced mixed results. The cranberry contains tannin that prevents E. coli bacteria - the most common cause of urinary tract infections - from sticking to the walls of the bladder, where they can cause infection. However, a review of studies on the effectiveness of cranberry juice/extract on UTIs found they did not significantly reduce the incidence of UTIs, and juices that contain excess sugar have potential to increase the risk.
All urinary discomfort is a UTI:
While the symptoms listed above are highly suspicious for a bacterial UTI, some of them can also be present in other diagnoses, including yeast infections or vulvovaginitis, and some sexually transmitted infections. Your doctor may suggest an exam or additional testing to evaluate for these conditions.
A UTI will eventually clear up on its own:
While it is possible for the infection to clear on its own, that is usually not the case. Dr. Brandt adds, “If left untreated, a UTI can lead to kidney damage. If you suspect you have a UTI, see your doctor for treatment with an antibiotic. Always finish your prescription and drink plenty of water to help flush the bacteria from your system.”
If you would like more information about UTIs, or if you are looking for a primary care physician and would like to make an appointment with Dr. Brandt, please call 314-996-8103.
Patients are seen at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, Medical Building One, 1040 N. Mason Road, Suite 103.