An infection of the urinary system can cause uncomfortable symptoms in the short term, and damage to your kidneys in the long term. The urinary system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.
A bacterium called Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most common cause of UTIs. E. coli typically resides in the gut and it can gain access to the urethra during sexual activity or wiping after a bowel movement.
Urinary tract infections (known as UTIs) are more common in women than in men. In fact, almost 50% of women will experience at least one UTI in their lifetime. What's more, between 20% and 40% of women will have the misfortune of dealing with recurrent UTIs.
Why Are Women More Prone To UTIs?
Women have shorter urethras. The urethra is the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body. Additionally, the urethra is closer to the anus.
Unfortunately, this makes it easier for bacteria, often from the skin or rectum, to find their way into the urinary tract and cause an infection.
Spotting The Symptoms Of A UTI
If the infection is in the urethra, you might experience a frequent urge to urinate and notice an abnormal discharge from the vagina. If the infection has moved into the bladder, it's often accompanied by a burning sensation when you urinate or discomfort in the lower belly.
Symptoms of a kidney infection usually include back pain and a high fever. Kidney infections can be pretty serious and may require a trip to the hospital.
An infection in the lower part of the urinary tract can cause swelling in the urethra, making it difficult for urine to pass. An inflamed urethra is called Urethritis and although some people are asymptomatic, it can present with an increased urge to urinate, pain or a burning sensation during urination.
An infection in the urethra can be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia or gonorrhoea or bacteria such as E. coli.
Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder. It is one of the most common types of UTI.
When you have cystitis, you may experience symptoms such as pain, burning or stinging during urination. The passage of urine through an inflamed or infected urethra can cause significant discomfort. You might also experience:
- A strong urge to urinate frequently
- Dark or cloudy urine with a strong smell
- Pain in the lower abdomen or lower back
- An overall unwell feeling
- Body aches
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Possibly blood in the urine
The Dangers Of Kidney Infections
Bacteria that enter through the urethra can travel up to the bladder and kidneys. If left untreated, a kidney infection can cause permanent kidney damage or spread to other parts of the body.
Signs of a kidney infection include pain and discomfort in the side, lower back, or around the genital area. You might also experience a high temperature, shivering or chills, extreme weakness or fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, diarrhoea, blood in the urine (which can indicate a severe infection or other urinary tract conditions), and persistent nausea that may lead to vomiting.
Can You Prevent UTIs?
While it's not always possible to prevent UTIs entirely, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Drinking plenty of water helps to dilute the urine and flush out bacteria before an infection can take hold. Other preventive measures include:
- Urinating after sexual activity
- Avoiding douching
- Minimising the use of sprays, powders or harsh soaps in the genital area
- Wiping from front to back after using the toilet
Intimacy And UTIs
When you're experiencing a UTI, it's best to steer clear of sexual activities. While condoms are generally effective in transmitting sexually transmitted infections, engaging in sexual intercourse while having a UTI can introduce even more bacteria into the urethra, making the infection worse and causing more pain.
How Are UTIs Treated?
The first step to take, once a UTI has taken hold, is to increase your water intake in order to flush as much of the bacteria out as possible.
Cranberry juice is a common home remedy for UTIs - it has compounds that prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract - but research is still ongoing in order to determine the true effectiveness of cranberry juice in treating UTIs.
Should you suspect you have a UTI, it would be best to consult a doctor, who can provide an accurate diagnosis and prescribe antibiotics in order to fully eradicate the infection.
In terms of symptomatic relief, over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate pain and reduce fever. Urinary alkalisers may help reduce the acidity of urine, which can provide relief from the burning sensation during urination.