A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common infection in any part of the urinary or renal system (urethra, ureters, bladder, and kidneys). In fact, it is the second most common type of infection among adults. Besides being responsible for over 8 million visits to healthcare professionals every year, UTIs are also one of the most common nosocomial infections, which means that they can be contracted in the hospital by an individual who is admitted for an entirely different medical condition.
These statistics are not meant to scare you into not visiting the hospital, but rather to highlight how easily UTIs can be contracted. In light of this, there is no greater measure people can take than to try their best to prevent a UTI infection, and luckily, there are several ways to do that. However, you will not understand how to prevent something if you do not know how it happens. Read on to learn more.
How do UTIs develop?
Most urinary tract infections affect the lower urinary tract, which comprises the urinary bladder and urethra. The upper urinary tract is comprised of the kidneys and ureters, which can also be affected. The infection is initially caused by bacteria deposited on the excretory organ. Bacteria then multiply and spread upward into the bladder. A UTI is considered to be fully set once the infection gets into the bladder and becomes severe if it goes up to the kidneys.
Individuals of any age or sex can develop a urinary tract infection. However, UTIs are more common among women than men due to an anatomical difference. Unlike men, women have a shorter urethra and their urethral opening is closer to the anus. UTIs are not usually contagious.
The common symptoms associated with urinary tract infections include:
- A burning sensation while peeing
- Unsatisfactory and frequent urge to urinate
- Cloudy, dark, or strange smelling urine
- Lower back or abdominal pain
- Fever or chills (a sign that the infection may have reached the kidney)
In case you have any of these symptoms, it is important that you seek medical attention for an accurate diagnosis and treatment. UTIs are usually treated with antibiotics. A UTI is not often serious, but in rare instances, such infection can lead to severe complications such as kidney damage.
Now that you know how they occur, you probably know that the key to avoiding a UTI is to prevent bacteria from getting into the urethra in the first place, which can be difficult to achieve. Once bacteria enter the urethra, symptoms can be experienced. You can stop the infection or prevent the multiplication of bacteria if you take measures at this point. Here’s how:
1. Drink lots of fluids
Once you identify the initial symptoms of a UTI such as pain during urination, it is important to flush most of these bacteria inhabiting your urethra. Flushing them is quite simple actually. Take plenty of fluids and urinate as often as possible. Urinating will flush most of the bacteria down the urethra and out of your body, thereby preventing an ascending infection from happening.
It is recommended that you drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day. Moreover, it is important to avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee or tea as these drinks can irritate the bladder, especially when you have an infection. When you are exercising, it is important to remember to keep yourself constantly hydrated.
2. Cranberry juice
Although still not verified by research, most people claim that cranberry juice helps to relieve UTI symptoms. It might not work, but it doesn’t hurt to try either.
3. Urinate after sexual intercourse
It may seem unromantic at the time, but peeing after sexual intercourse will flush out any bacteria you may have received from your partner during intercourse. Aside from acquiring bacteria, sexual intercourse pushes any bacteria you had in your urethra further up and closer to the bladder. To be able to do urinate, you might need to drink a glass of water before and perhaps after any sexual activity.
The above methods will help you prevent a UTI from advancing, but you can take further measures to ensure that bacteria won't invade your urethra in the first place by:
- Adapting correct toilet practices - Women must wipe from front to back after using the toilet. Practicing this method avoids the transfer of bacteria from the anus to the vagina and urethra.
- Practice good hygiene - Certain products such as those used for douching may irritate the vagina and urethra, leaving them open to infection. Be careful with vaginal powders and sprays for the same reason. The use of mild unscented bath products is recommended. Ensure that you often change your tampons or sanitary napkins as they provide an environment that is conducive to bacterial growth. Also, it is advised that you shower instead of taking a long bath in a tub as it allows for easy contamination and passage of bacteria to the bladder.
- Switch birth control methods - Some birth control methods such as diaphragms and certain kinds of condoms may contribute to the growth of harmful bacteria. Be careful when buying them and try switching if you have been experiencing recurrent UTIs.
- Don’t hold it in - Empty your bladder as often as possible. If you’ve got to go, then go. Don’t try holding it in for a convenient time or place. Holding it in just increases the risk of infection as it allows for bacteria to continue multiplying inside the bladder. Ensure that you use the bathroom every 4-6 hours if not more frequently to avoid infection.
- Wear breathable clothing - Get rid of your nylon underwear and tight-fitting jeans as they can trap moisture, and create a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Always choose cotton underwear and breathable loose-fitting clothes that can help keep the area around the urethra dry.
It goes without saying that urinary tract infections are not easy to deal with. They are painful, uncomfortable, and can be debilitating at times. However, unlike other infections, it can be easily avoided or controlled by practicing good hygiene, healthy diet, and lifestyle changes. Make sure you take the right steps to avoid an unwanted and dreadful UTI experience.