Urinary tract infections are very common but sadly, cause great pain and suffering to an estimated half of all women in the UK at least once in their lifetime. Summer is peak season for urinary tract infections (UTIs) with an estimated one third more cases.
Urinary tract infections are bacterial infections in the body’s urinary system, the system in which our bodies make and get rid of urine. Our urinary system is made up of the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder and the urethra.
During the summer months it is thought that dehydration may be responsible for an increase in cases, as we don’t take in enough fluid to flush out the bladder. It is also thought that an increase in sexual activity may be a factor in increasing the likelihood of irritation of the urethra and bacteria getting into the bladder.
Half of all women will experience a UTI at some point, with many suffering repeated bouts. According to a review in the British Journal of Family Medicine, 53% of those over 55 and 36% of younger women will suffer a recurrence within a year.
The most common UTI is cystitis which is an inflammation in the lining of the bladder. If the infection is in the kidneys, the condition is called pyelonephritis. An infection of the urethra is known as urethritis.
The most common bacteria linked to UTIs are Escherichia coli (E. coli) which are responsible for up to 90% of infections. These bacteria are naturally present in the gut but an infection may occur if they enter the urethra and are not eliminated through urination.
Women are more prone to infections because they have shorter urethras than men. This reduces the distance the bacteria have to travel. A woman’s urethra is also located closer to the rectum than a man’s. Bacteria such as E. coli from the large intestine then has a shorter distance to travel to enter the urethra.
What are the risk factors for developing urinary tract infections?
- advanced age
- insufficient fluid intake
- a urinary catheter
- enlarged prostate in men
- bowel incontinence
- urinary retention
What are the symptoms of urinary tract infections?
The symptoms vary depending on the severity of the infection but you will immediately notice changes during urination. As the infection progresses, pain also occurs. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- cloudy or bloody urine
- urinating more often than usual and a feeling of urgency to do so
- foul-smelling urine
- pain or burning sensation when urinating
- cramping or pressure in the abdomen or lower back
You may find your symptoms are mild and pass within a few days. If however, they are very uncomfortable, if you are pregnant, if you develop a high temperature or if the symptoms last for more than five days, you should see your GP.
You will be asked to give a urine sample which will be tested for the presence of UTI causing bacteria. If you are prescribed a course of antibiotics, make sure you finish the course even after you start to feel better.
How can you treat these infections and prevent them recurring in the future?
Urinary tract infections usually get better on their own within four or five days but the following may help:
- antibiotics can help speed up recovery time and can help prevent the condition returning
- drink plenty of water
- eat fruit containing antioxidants such as blueberries and cranberries
- cut out sweet fizzy drinks
- make your urine more alkaline by mixing a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda with water and drinking this every few hours for the first two days of the infection
- eat probiotic yoghurts which are full of good bacteria
- practice good hygiene when using the toilet and always wipe from front to back
- refrain from using scented bath products and feminine hygiene sprays
- keep your genital area dry by wearing cotton underwear and loose fitting clothes
By making simple changes such as drinking plenty of water this summer, you can limit your chances of suffering from UTIs and by being proactive, you can reduce the chances of their recurrence.
As always, if you are at all unsure of problems associated with your urinary system, don’t hesitate to make an appointment to see your doctor.
If you would like more information from the British Association of Urological Surgeons, please click on the link.
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