UTIs: Not something to ignore

By: Ashley Briggs, MD .

female doctor talking to patient about UTIs
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What are UTIs?

Urinary tract infections or UTIs happen when bacteria travel up into the bladder. Women are at a higher risk than men for getting UTIs because our anatomy is different.  In women it’s a shorter distance from the outside into the bladder.

How women get them?

The most common bacteria is E. coli.  This bacteria is most commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract and the rectum. Because the rectum and the opening where we urinate from (the urethra) are close together, the bacteria can travel from the rectum to the urethra and into the bladder.

What are the symptoms?

Classic symptoms would be pain when you’re urinating, urinating more frequently or feeling the urge to urinate. Sometimes women might have pain in their lower abdomen or see blood in their urine.

How can UTIs be prevented?

  • After you urinate, make sure you wipe from front to back (from “clean to dirty”).
  • Drink a lot of water because if there are bacteria present, this dilutes the urine and flushes them out.  This would decrease the chances of getting a bladder infection.
  • Research has found that spermicides can increase the risk of a bladder infection, so women should talk to their provider about some other options for birth control.
  • Some research has shown that drinking cranberry juice or taking a cranberry tablet may help to prevent bladder infections.
  • After having intercourse, it may help to get up and urinate.
  • In post-menopausal women, using vaginal estrogen may help if they’re getting recurrent bladder infections.
  • If all those things don’t help, sometimes taking antibiotics either in a continuous manner or just after intercourse may be helpful.

Are UTIs harmless?

No. What we worry about when the infection is in the bladder is if it’s not treated, it can spread up to your kidneys. If it spreads to your kidneys, the symptoms could include fevers, chills or upper back pain. This would put you at risk for infection spreading to the rest of your body.  If you’re having symptoms of a bladder infection, it’s important to see your doctor.

When should women see a physician?

If your symptoms are not improving within 24 to 48 hours after you are treating with increasing water or trying the cranberry juice, you should call your provider. They may talk to you over the phone or have you come in to complete a test that looks for bacteria in your urine. They may also want to do an exam to feel your back and check your temperature.  Based on that, they may need to prescribe you an antibiotic.

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Posted In Health, Women's