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FAQs About Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Jul 08, 2015
One out of five women will develop a urinary tract infection (UTI) some time in her life. Although its occurrence is much more common in women, men can develop a UTI as well.

One out of five women will develop a urinary tract infection (UTI) some time in her life. Although its occurrence is much more common in women, men can develop a UTI as well.

What causes urinary tract infections (UTIs)?

Urinary tract infections develop when bacteria in our urine get trapped in the urethra (tube that empties urine from the bladder) or bladder. These then start to multiply. All urine contains bacteria. If you're not drinking enough fluids to flush out all the urine or your bladder muscles are too weak to completely empty your bladder, then the bacteria are trapped inside your bladder, which will eventually lead to an infection.

How do I know if I have a UTI?

If you feel a burning sensation when you urinate, you most likely have a UTI. However, if you are diabetic, your nerves may be less sensitive and you may not be able to feel this. You'll need to keep a watchful eye for other signs of infection including fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, confusion and blood in your urine. Having your doctor test your urine is the easiest way to detect an infection. The test will reveal whether your white blood cells are fighting off the bacteria.

Can bladder infections cause fever?

If you develop a high fever, back pain, nausea and/or vomiting, the bacteria from your bladder infection may have spread to your kidneys. This is called Pyelonephritis. You can also experience tenderness or pain in your back where your kidneys are located. Even the lightest tap will feel extremely painful. Please seek medical care immediately if this occurs.

Why are women more prone to get a UTI?

Unfortunately, women have shorter urethras making it easier for bacteria to travel up into our bladder from our skin, which places us at higher risk for recurrent infections. Other life experiences women go through put them at disadvantage:

  • Women who have given birth are more prone to bladder infections because their bladder muscles were weakened. Weaker muscles are unable to completely empty all the urine out of the bladder.
  • Women who have experienced menopause have a change in their normal "good" vaginal bacteria population, which leads to UTIs. One easy solution to this problem is to ask your doctor for a topical or vaginal estrogen cream or ring to return the normal vaginal bacteria, which will fight off the other "bad" bacteria that lead to bladder infection.

If you develop three or more bladder infections in a year, this is called Recurrent UTIs and an evaluation should be started to determine the cause. Once the cause is known, a treatment plan can be formulated.

How long is the treatment period?

For women, treatment typically lasts three days. Men, however, require seven days of antibiotics. If you are prescribed antibiotics, I strongly, strongly encourage you to take all of the antibiotics to ensure all traces of bacteria are killed off. A lot of people, especially those who get bladder infections regularly, like to save antibiotics for those "rainy day" occurrences. This is not a good idea because more than likely that new UTI is due to traces of bacteria left over from the last infection, which may have mutated and no longer will be killed by the last antibiotic.

How can I prevent UTIs from recurring?

Sometimes preventing bladder infections from reoccurring is out of our control due to our anatomy. For most of us, however, there are steps you can take to prevent frequent reoccurrences. The best thing you can do is drink a lot of water, which will help fill up your bladder and require it to push out your urine often throughout the day. The less time the bacteria have to sit around and grow the better.

Another option is to drink 8 ounces twice a day of 27 percent cranberry juice or extract (also available in tablets), which makes our urine extremely acidic, not allowing the bacteria to attach to our bladder or urethra. However, keep in mind there's no study that definitely proves cranberry juice or extract works for everyone. Some claim it works, while others believe it acts as a placebo. If my patients use it and believe that it works, then I tell them to keep using it, since it is not harmful and inexpensive. If you want to give it a try, I suggest using it for 90 days. If you do not notice a decrease in the frequency of UTIs during this period, you should stop using it and talk to your doctor about other options.