Did you know that as a woman, you have about a 60 percent chance of experiencing at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) in your lifetime? And typically, if you have one, you can expect to have the gift that keeps on giving—every UTI increases your risk of having another.
What is a urinary tract infection?
A UTI typically involves a bacterial infection of the urinary tract, most often caused by Escherichia coli—a bacterium common in feces—coming into contact with the opening of the urethra. The urinary tract can become contaminated in a variety of ways:
- Wiping from back to front after using the restroom
- Irritation to the genital area from sexual activity, tampons, douching, etc., which makes it easier for bacteria to invade
- A blockage in the flow of urine, such as from kidney stones or prolapse, or due to pregnancy
- A weak bladder, incomplete emptying
- A catheter that’s in place for a long time
- Thinning of vaginal and urethral tissue due to menopause
From the urethra, the infection can spread up to the bladder and even up into the kidneys. If left untreated, the bacteria can invade the bloodstream and cause sepsis, a life-threatening condition.
What are the symptoms of a UTI?
Often, the first sign that you might have a UTI is the sudden, strong feeling that you need to urinate. There may also be a painful or burning sensation as you relieve yourself. You may feel like you need to use the restroom very often, but not much urine is produced or, you may find that you can’t control the urge and have a little leakage.
If the infection has spread to the kidneys, you may feel unwell in general, or have other additional symptoms like:
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Back pain
How are UTIs treated or prevented?
Treatment usually involves a prescription antibiotic medication, only after your urine is tested and the infection is confirmed. The specific medication will depend on the type of bacterium present and other factors specific to your body. Other prescription and over-the-counter medications can be used to ease your symptoms while you wait for the antibiotic to kill the bacteria. If the bacteria have spread to the kidneys or beyond, then hospitalization and IV antibiotics may be required.
If you have recurring UTIs, then other tests may be in order to look for potential causes. To help flush out the bacteria, and to reduce the risk of future infection, your health care provider may recommend drinking lots of fluids and avoiding coffee and alcohol, which can irritate your urinary tract further.