The burning sensation, lower belly pain, cloudy, odorous, blood-tinged urine, and, let’s not forget, the frequent and urgent need to empty your bladder, only to barely be able to produce any urine.
If you’ve had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you know these symptoms all too well and have probably tried just about anything to ease the symptoms and keep the uncomfort from coming back.
Unfortunately, recurrent urinary tract infections are almost just as common as the infection itself. And there are many misconceptions about UTIs and what steps you should take to alleviate the pain and keep them from recurring.
Today we will answer some common UTI FAQs. In this article, we’ll examine….
- What a UTI is, why you get them, and where in the urinary tract they can occur.
- The truth behind the most common UTI myths (e.g., a UTI is not an STI, but your relationship still might be to blame.)
- Ways to manage painful UTI symptoms and when you should see your OBGYN.
- Why UTIs frequently recur and what you can do to keep them from returning.
What Is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection that affects the urinary system, which includes the bladder, urethra, ureters, and kidneys.
These painful infections happen when bacteria somehow enter the urinary tract, most typically from the genital area. This explains why women are more prone to UTIs than men, as the female anatomy makes it easier for these harmful bacteria to sneak in and cause an infection.
According to the Urology Care Foundation, UTIs are the second most common type of bodily infection, with at least 10 in 25 women and 3 in 25 men experiencing a UTI at least once in their lifetime. And unfortunately, for some, getting a UTI is more than just a one-and-done occurrence.
Many experience recurring UTIs throughout their lifetime. In fact, according to research, approximately 25% to 30% of women who have experienced a urinary tract infection (UTI) will experience a recurrence of the infection within six months. Talk about annoying!!
UTIs most commonly occur in the bladder (cystitis), but not all urinary tract infections are bladder infections. UTIs can also occur only in the urethra (urethritis) or in the kidneys (pyelonephritis.)
Each type of UTI generally causes the same symptoms, which can include:
- The urge to urinate frequently and urgently, but often not producing much urine.
- A burning sensation when urinating.
- Feeling that the bladder is still full after urinating.
- Lower stomach pain above the pubic bone.
- Cloudy, bloody and/or smelly urine.
A UTI in the kidneys, which is the most serious type of UTI, typically brings about additional symptoms, which can include:
- Lower belly pain
- Pain in the lower back
In most cases, a UTI isn’t serious, but there can be exceptions. One is if the UTI is in the kidneys. If you believe you have a kidney infection, you should seek prompt medical treatment. If not treated, an infection in the kidneys can cause permanent kidney damage or spread to the bloodstream.
Another instance where UTIs can become serious is if they keep coming back, regardless of what part of the urinary tract the infection occurs.
The Reason Why UTIs Tend to Recur
It isn’t fully known why some people are more apt to get UTIs than others. There are several theories, one being genetics. Some doctors believe certain genetic subtypes are more prone to UTIs than others. Meaning if your mom or sister gets recurring UTIs, you likely have a genetic predisposition to UTIs as well.
Another reason you could get recurring UTIs is an underlying medical issue. You could be experiencing frequent UTIs because of an immune disorder that makes you more prone to infection, diabetes, which can create extra sugar in the urine that breeds bacteria, an anatomical issue that prevents you from fully emptying your bladder when you pee, which could allow bacteria to stagnate in the bladder, or a blockage such as kidney stones. If you are experiencing two or more UTIs a year, you should talk to a primary care provider or obgyn.
Knowing the primary ways bacteria can enter your urinary tract is also vital in helping prevent painful UTIs from happening and recurring. Here are the three most common ways bacteria can enter your urinary tract and cause an infection:
- Through the urethra: The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. Bacteria can enter the urethra in numerous ways, including during sexual activity and improper wiping after bowel movements. Medical procedures such as catheter insertion or cystoscope insertion can also be culprits.
- Backflow from the bladder: If the bladder doesn’t empty completely, urine can back up into the ureters (the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder) and cause a urinary tract infection.
- Poor personal hygiene: Not wiping properly after using the restroom, douching and using other feminine hygiene sprays, wearing tight-fitting underwear, and not frequently changing your tampon or pad during your period are lifestyle factors that can all increase the risk of bacteria entering the urinary tract.
Fact or Fiction: Common UTI Myths and Truths
When it comes to urinary tract infections (UTIs), there’s no shortage of old wives’ tales and misconceptions floating around. From myths about the causes of UTIs to beliefs about preventing or treating them, it can be tough to separate fact from fiction.
With UTIs being such a common condition, having accurate information at your fingertips is important. In this section, we’ll explore some of the most prevalent myths and truths about UTIs, so you can stay informed and make the best decisions for your health.
UTIs Only Happen To Women
Sorry fellas, this is a myth. UTIs are less common in men than women but can still occur. A man is less likely to get a UTI because the male urethra is longer, making it more difficult for bacteria to reach the bladder and cause an infection.
However, certain factors can increase the risk of UTIs in men, such as an enlarged prostate or a history of urinary tract abnormalities. Additionally, when a UTI develops in men, it is often considered more complicated and likely to spread to the kidneys and upper urinary tract.
Too Much Sex Can Cause UTIs
Unfortunately, this is true. Frequent sexual intercourse is one of the greatest risk factors for recurrent UTIs, especially if you are a woman. During sexual intercourse, friction and pressure can force bacteria in or around the genital area toward the urethra and into the bladder and urinary tract. From there, it populates, and you end up with an infection.
Having sex does not guarantee you will get a UTI, and a UTI is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or contagious condition. However, you can pass the bacteria that causes a UTI between partners.
Peeing after sex prevents UTIs
Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract, usually through your urethra, which is very close to your vaginal opening. So, it would make sense that peeing immediately after sex may help to flush bacteria out of the urethra, thereby helping to prevent a UTI.
While it certainly can’t hurt to pee after sex, especially if you are prone to UTIs, no concrete medical research shows that you need to do so right after sex. Whether urination happens 30 seconds or an hour after you have sex doesn’t seem to make a difference.
Probiotic Foods (like yogurt) are Good for UTI Prevention
This is true! Studies have shown that regularly consuming probiotic-rich foods can reduce the risk of UTIs, particularly in women. Foods, such as some unsweetened yogurts, contain live cultures of beneficial bacteria, including lactobacillus, which can help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the urinary tract.
Incorporating probiotic foods like yogurt into your diet can be a simple and tasty way to promote urinary tract health and reduce the risk of UTIs. Just don’t put these foods into your vagina. Unfortunately, putting foods and other products into the vagina is a disturbing and dangerous trend. DON’T put yogurt anywhere but in your mouth.
Menopause is a Risk-Factor for UTIs
Unfortunately, UTIs can be yet another downfall of life after menopause. As women age and go through menopause, the production of estrogen, a hormone that helps keep the urinary tract healthy, decreases. Estrogen helps maintain the thickness and elasticity of the lining of the urinary tract. When estrogen levels decline, the lining becomes thinner and more vulnerable to bacterial infections.
Additionally, the muscles and tissues of the urinary tract weaken over time, making it harder to fully empty the bladder and increasing the risk of bacteria growth. The combination of these factors can make postmenopausal women more susceptible to UTIs.
Birth Control Causes UTIs
Some contraceptives can indeed increase your risk of UTIs. If you use spermicide as birth control, this could be the culprit of your UTIs. Spermicides could potentially kill off beneficial bacteria in the vagina, making it easier for E. coli (the bacterium that often causes UTIs) to move in.
Using a diaphragm can also up your odds of UTIs. Diaphragms put pressure on the urethra, making it harder to fully empty your bladder. If urine doesn’t empty, it is more likely to grow bacteria.
If you use one of these methods for pregnancy prevention, you might want to consider a different method of birth control.
Cranberry Juice Can Help Prevent UTIs
Drinking cranberry juice is one of the most well-known natural remedies for UTIs. Cranberries are believed to help ward off UTIs by helping prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract. There is very little evidence that cranberry juice can actually cure a UTI. Still, some studies suggest it can lower your risk for infection.
So, while cranberry juice is not a cure, drinking a couple of glasses or snacking on whole or dried fruit might be worth trying if you frequently get UTIs. Just make sure you are consuming unsweetened cranberries. Added sugars may only make your urinary tract infection worse.
Holding Your Pee Causes UTIs
Holding your urine for long periods does not directly cause a UTI, but it can increase the risk of developing a urinary tract infection. This is because holding your urine for too long can cause bacteria to multiply in the bladder.
Additionally, holding urine for long periods can weaken the bladder muscles and make it more difficult to completely empty your bladder when you urinate, which can also increase the risk of a UTI. Urinating regularly is vital to prevent other bladder and urinary tract problems. Adults should generally urinate every 3-4 hours or more frequently if needed.
You Can “Flush Out” A UTI By Drinking Lots Of Water
Drinking lots of water can help flush bacteria out of your bladder faster. According to the Mayo Clinic, 50 percent of UTIs can be treated by drinking enough fluid alone.
Additionally, drinking water can dilute your urine, which can help with the burning and pain during a UTI.
How to Get Relief From UTI Symptoms
UTIs can cause many symptoms, including pain or burning during urination, frequent urination, and the urge to urinate even when the bladder is empty.
Here are some ways to relieve the painful and annoying symptoms of a UTI:
- Drink plenty of water: Drinking plenty of water can help flush out bacteria from the urinary tract, reducing the severity of UTI symptoms.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help alleviate pain and discomfort caused by UTIs.
- Apply a heating pad: Applying a heating pad to the lower abdomen can help relieve the pain and discomfort associated with UTIs.
- Use urinary tract analgesics: Urinary tract analgesics such as phenazopyridine can help relieve the pain, burning, and urgency associated with UTIs.
- Avoid irritants: Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, and acidic foods can help reduce the severity of UTI symptoms. These irritants can build up in the urine, making urinating even more painful while you have a UTI.
Best Ways to Treat a UTI
In rare cases, a UTI can go away on its own, but it is relatively uncommon and depends on several factors, such as the severity of the infection and the person’s overall health.
If you are looking for the quickest way to treat a UTI, it’s best to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Chances are your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to help clear the bacterial infection and prevent the infection from spreading to the kidneys.
A week of antibiotics typically clears things up for the vast majority of simple UTIs. For those with a more severe UTI or recurring UTIs, your doctor may also prescribe long-term, low-dose antibiotics for a more extended period after symptoms subside. Your doctor may also recommend you take antibiotics after each time you have intercourse.
Additionally, many doctors suggest cleansing the bladder and supporting a healthy inflammatory response by supplementing with natural vitamins and herbs. Turmeric, green tea, cranberry and d-mannose are the most commonly used natural UTI remedies with strong scientific backing.
According to some studies, drinking cranberry juice daily can help minimize recurrences among those who have chronic UTIs, and numerous studies show D-mannose (a natural sugar found in plants and berries) reduced UTI symptoms in women with an active infection, lessened the severity of symptoms, and was even more effective than antibiotics for preventing additional infections.
The most active component in turmeric, curcumin, is known for its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Similarly, supplemental green tea is also said to potentially protect against urinary tract inflammation. Green tea also has antibacterial properties that make it remarkably effective against UTIs.
When To See Your OBGYN
Unless you see a medical professional for a proper diagnosis, it’s a guessing game if you have a UTI or if your symptoms are due to something else. Your doctor can quickly confirm that your symptoms are indeed a UTI by taking a urine specimen. The sample will be sent off for a urinalysis or urine culture. From there, your doctor will come up with a proper treatment plan.
While there are many home remedies for treating UTIs and relieving symptoms, to be safe, it is advised to visit your doctor, especially if you have recurring UTIs, severe UTI symptoms or if your symptoms do not improve within a few days of home treatment. Untreated UTIs can lead to severe complications, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Urinary tract infections are among many conditions we treat and diagnose here at Cool Springs OB-GYN in Brentwood and Franklin, TN. Click here to contact us to schedule an appointment or if you have any UTI questions.