Think you’re the only woman who suffers from urinary tract infections? Think again.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, more than half of all women will experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetime and about a third will require antibiotic treatment for one by the time they reach 24.
In its simplest form, a UTI occurs when bacteria settle into the lower half of the urinary tract, which includes the bladder or urethra. Although not gender-specific, the shorter urethra of the female anatomy makes it easier for bacteria to make its way to the through the urethra and connected organs, often after sexual activity.
And while sexual activity is not the only way to get a urinary tract infection, it is the most common cause particularly among women who are:
- Younger and more frequently sexually active or have multiple partners.
- At this stage in life, a decrease in estrogen makes the vaginal tissue more susceptible to cuts, which are a breeding ground for bacteria.
- The sugar in the urine of someone who is diabetic offers food for bacteria to thrive.
In many cases – especially where sexual activity is involved – UTIs are preventable. Here are six things you can do to help keep your urinary tract infection-free:
- Practice good pre-sex hygiene. Cleaning your genitals and perineum region thoroughly prior to sex removes some bacteria that may make its way into and through your urethra.
- Empty your bladder immediately following sexual activity to flush bacteria.
- Good post-sex hygiene is as important as pre-sex hygiene. Wash your genital area with mild soap and water after urinating.
- Drink water. The more dilute the urine is, the more frequently bacteria get flushed out.
- Take cranberry extract daily. Bacteria do not like the acidity of cranberry and therefore will not thrive in its presence.
- In some cases, for those have recurrent UTIs, physicians may choose to put you on a preventative antibiotic that you can take prior to every sexual encounter.
Whether it’s your first or 10th time experiencing a UTI, symptoms can vary based on the severity of the infection and may include some or all of the following:
- Painful urination
- Increased frequency of urination
- The sensation that you need to use the bathroom, but nothing comes out
- Blood in the urine
- Cloudy or off-color urine
- Urine that has a bad odor
- Cramping or discomfort in the lower belly
For more severe cases when fever, weakness, kidney pain or headache is present, it is likely that it is more than a simple UTI.
We always recommend talking to a physician – your family doctor, OBGYN or urologist – for a pelvic exam and urinalysis when you think you may have a UTI. In some cases, the physician may prescribe a course of antibiotics to clear the infection.
As the symptoms often mimic those of a yeast infection or certain STDs, they may find that you are not experiencing a urinary tract infection at all.
If you can’t get to your physician quickly, drink plenty of water to flush the bacteria out of your system and drink cranberry juice or take cranberry extract or pills to starve the bacteria to get ahead of it or at least alleviate some of the symptoms you may be experiencing. You may also consider taking urinary pain relief medicine as directed.