Treating and preventing UTI in women

A urinary tract infection is a highly painful condition and requires plenty of care and patience

Women suffering from painful UTI

UTI or urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract that usually affects women. When the kidney and ureter is infected, it is termed as pyelonephritis and when the bladder and urethra is involved, it is termed as cystitis and urethritis respectively.

Signs and symptoms of UTI

The most common symptoms are

  1. burning sensation or pain during urination
  2. need to urinate more often than usual
  3. urgency of urination and pain during intercourse.

If the infection is severe and the kidneys are also involved, there can be fever, nausea, vomiting, malaise and pain in the abdomen or flanks.

These symptoms may also be accompanied by cramps in the lower abdomen and blood or pus in urine.

Women are more prone

UTI is more commonly seen in women than men because anatomically a woman’s body is more prone to infections of the urinary system. They are so common that more than 50 per cent of women will have at least one episode of urinary tract infection during their lifetime. More so, about 40 per cent of these recur within six months of the first episode of infection. UTIs are more likely to occur in women who are newly married or have a new sexual partner. The term ‘Honeymoon Cystitis’ has been applied to the phenomenon of frequent UTIs during early marriage. The other risk factors are pregnancy, after menopause or in women who have a history of kidney stones, diabetes, stroke, and bladder surgery.

Pregnancy and UTI

During pregnancy, especially in its early stages, women have an increased risk of urinary infection due to the rise of the hormone progesterone. This causes a decrease in the tone of the bladder and ureter, which leads to a greater likelihood of urine flowing back up the ureters and towards the kidneys. During pregnancy, even if there are no symptoms but the urine test shows presence of bacteria, treatment is still recommended as there is a  25 per cent risk of infection spreading to the kidneys. Recurrent urine infections during pregnancy can lead to anaemia, pre-term labour, pre-eclampsia [high blood pressure], and may also affect growth of the baby.

Menopause and UTI

After menopause, the risk of urinary tract infections is higher due to a deficiency of the hormone oestrogen. Any sign of vaginal infections like discharge or any foul-smelling odour should be treated by the gynaecologist.

Urinary tract infection is diagnosed by doing a routine test of the urine to check for pus cells, red blood cells and bacteria. Urine culture and sensitivity testing is also done to identify the bacteria-causing UTI and treat it with an appropriate antibiotic. If there are recurrent UTIs, one may go for an advanced ultrasonography of the kidneys and urinary bladder. The urologist may suggest intravenous pyelogram [IVP], CT scan or cystoscopy. UTI is treated with antibiotics for 7 – 10 days. If there is severe or recurrent UTI along with fever, a prolonged course of antibiotics is advised. Symptomatic relief is offered with the help of urine alkalisers and bladder relaxants.

7 tips to prevent urinary tract infections in women

Here are a few ways you can protect yourself against contracting a UTI.

  • Drink at least 2 – 3 litres of water daily. Avoid excess of caffeine and alcohol, as that can cause the body to lose fluids. Cranberry juice is recommended for those who have recurrent UTIs since it has properties which make the bacteria adhere less to the urinary tract
  • Keep your genital area clean and use only cotton underwear and pantyhose. Maintain good toilet hygiene. For example, pat genital area dry, wipe from front to back and not in the opposite direction as this prevents bacteria from anus spreading to the urethra and vagina
  • Avoid using irritating cosmetics or chemicals in the genital area like strong soaps, scented napkins or liners. Do not douche
  • You may use medicated lotions with lactobacillus for hygiene of genital area. Lactobacillus is the good bacteria normally present in the intestinal and vaginal flora, which maintains the protective acidic pH balance
  • Urinate and wash before and after sexual intercourse
  • Avoid sexual intercourse during urinary and vaginal infections. This can aggravate the infection and also spread to your partner
  • Maintain good immunity level with adequate dose of vitamin C, vitamin D and Vitamin A. Eat citrus fruits like oranges, sweet lime and amlas [Indian gooseberries].

This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing

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