Frequent, recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be painful, disruptive to life, and if left untreated, can develop into a more serious problem.
A UTI is an infection of the kidneys, ureters, bladder or urethra. Most often, UTIs result from bacteria found in the bowel entering the urethra and bladder, which can cause uncomfortable symptoms. UTIs can make urination very painful and frequent. They can also give urine a strong odor and become milky or discolored. Fever, loss of appetite and back pain signals the infection is probably affecting the kidneys and should be treated immediately.
According to the Urology Care Foundation, more than 8.1 million doctor visits are for UTI treatment and the majority of those visits are made by women. Some people have genetic factors that make them more susceptible to these infections, but in general, about 60% of women will experience a UTI at some point in life compared to 12% of men. Risk factors include:
- Having a catheter in for extended periods of time
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to preventing damage to the kidneys. Never ignore symptoms and make an appointment with your healthcare provider when you feel something is wrong. Antibiotics are the standard course of treatment for UTIs. Medication should be taken exactly as prescribed—until it is gone—to make sure all traces of the infection are destroyed. Even if symptoms clear, it’s important to finish the medication to prevent reoccurrence.
Some patients develop complicated UTIs, which tend to be more common among children and men. In these cases, a longer course of treatment is usually necessary or a different antibiotic is needed. If your UTI symptoms do not clear up after finishing a course of antibiotics, alert your provider.
Women suffering from frequent infections of the urinary tract may have a bladder condition that requires urologic care, and some are prone to infection after intercourse, which may require taking low-dose antibiotics after sex in an effort to help prevent infection.
- Birth control. Certain types such as diaphragms and spermicidal foams can increase the risk of UTI. Talk with your doctor about finding one that’s right for you.
- Don’t hold your bladder. The longer you hold urine inside the bladder, the more likely bacteria will grow.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Six to eight glasses a day is recommended.
- Urinate before and after sex. This can help flush away bacteria and prevent them from entering the urinary tract.
- Wipe from front to back. Wiping front to back makes it harder for fecal bacteria to enter the urinary tract.
Always seek treatment for UTIs. With your provider’s help, you can break the UTI cycle. Avoiding care can lead to kidney infection and in rare cases, life-threatening blood infections.