Oh, the magical world of You, Tee, and I. Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it? It almost sounds like a great story about a group of friends or something, huh? Well, I hate to break it to you, but we won’t be talking about anything like that. Friends are pleasant and a UTI….well it’s definitely not. If urinary tract infections (UTIs) were a friend, they’d be the type to always nag, pop up when uninvited, and scorch you just for existing. They’d definitely be the friend with all the drama.
And guess what else? Women are much more likely to end up with a UTI than men. Just great!
What Is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is one of those things that just just pops up at your door and punches you in the face. One day you’re living life like it’s golden and the next you’re sitting on the toilet afraid to pee because of the stinging pain.
A UTI is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an infection in your urinary system, which includes your kidneys, bladder, and all those cool tubes we rarely know the names of. It’s a pretty common infection. In fact, it’s the second most common infection to occur in the human body. As a woman, you have a 50% chance of having at least one UTI in your lifetime and some of us get them repeatedly.
Can you believe UTIs also responsible for 10 million doctor visits per year? It’s kind of mind blowing!
UTI Causes: What Makes Them Happen, Anyway?
Like anything “wrong” that can occur in the body, it’s good to know what causes urinary tract infections so you can make strides to duck and dodge them. However, a UTI can sometimes be a little sneaky. They’re the type to play the “now you see me, now you don’t” game.
It’s All About The Bacteria
If bacteria gets exposed to and trapped in your bladder, then it’s more likely that a UTI will occur. This can happen if you’re wiping wrong after using the bathroom. Urinary tract infections can also pop up after a night of rolling around the sheets with your partner. Do you douche? Urinary tract infections can occur from doing that too. Even if you’re not doing any of the above, you’re still at risk of a UTI.
Exercise and UTIs?
If you exercise often and like to lag around in your workout clothes afterwards, then you’re at risk for what’s called “sports vagina.” That’s when your lady parts down under start to sweat, itch, and even chaff. With all of that going on it’s very possible for a UTI to occur. However, don’t let that scare you into not working out at all. If you sit for long periods of time then you could develop a UTI too.
Who You Calling Short?
Want to know why? Well, it’s because you’re short in comparison to men. Your urethra is short, that is. The urethra is the tube connected to your bladder that leads urine out of your body. Because women’s urethras are so short, it makes it easier for pesky bacteria, like E. Coli, to reach the bladder and grow.
Women have been told for years that douching is a great way to cleanse their lady parts after having sex or following a period. However, today, it’s not recommended. Sending a stream of water up your vagina that’s mixed with vinegar and antiseptic isn’t a great idea. Sure, it flushes out bad bacteria, but it also gets rid of the good bacteria too. Your vagina and bladder practically sit next to each other, so when bad bacteria grows out of control in one area, it affects the other. It’s a UTI waiting to happen.
In summary, here are some of the most common UTI causes:
- Wiping back to front after using the bathroom
- Frequent sex
- Sitting for long periods of time
- Some forms of birth control, especially diaphragms and spermicides
- Sitting in damp and/or tight clothes
UTI Symptoms Can’t Be Ignored
Feel The Burn
If you’ve never had a UTI before, then consider yourself lucky. Women that have never experienced a UTI before often ask how they would know if they had it. Trust me…you will know. It’s like a fire breathing dragon shooting flames below the belt. And you don’t want that.
You’ve Got The Urge
Accompanying the burning sensation is another of the most common UTI symptoms: the annoying and intense urge to pee. But get this…when you do pee, nothing really even comes out.
Colors Of The Rainbow
One of the biggest indicators of having a UTI is the alarming color. Some people notice that their urine has hues of purple and red, with the latter often being blood. Your urine may also appear cloudy, which is something you don’t want to ignore.
We all know that urine doesn’t smell like roses, but if it smells like rotten fruit, then there’s likely something going on. Sometimes the smell is just unpleasantly indescribable, which is why I said…you will know!
Pain & Fatigue
Some women experience pain in the lower back or abdomen. It’s not uncommon to also feel tired or shaky. If your UTI has advanced to the kidneys, your UTI symptoms might even include chills or a fever. All in all, it’s not a pleasant experience.
In summary, here are some of the most common UTI symptoms:
- A burning sensation when you pee (i.e. that fire breathing dragon)
- A strong urge to pee
- Frequent urination, but without a lot of urine at any one time
- An usual odor in your urine
- Cloudy urine
- Blood in your urine
- Fever and chills
- Feeling tired and/or shaky
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal or back pain
UTI Treatment: Head To Your Doctor
To be honest, if you experience any of the symptoms above, you’re going to want to run to the doctor like a bat out of hell. A UTI is just that annoying. At the doctor, you’ll be asked to pee in a cup and they’ll run a test to see if UTI-causing bacteria are present. Once it’s been confirmed, you’ll be prescribed antibiotics. Doctors may also suggest taking an over the counter pain medication specifically made for UTIs. This will give you the opportunity to finally pee in peace, as it numbs your bladder and urethra.
Are You Having Frequent UTIs?
If you’re having frequent UTIs, then your doctor may want to do a MRI or CT scan to see what’s going on with your urinary tract. It’s also not uncommon for them to perform a cystoscopy on individuals with recurring infections. The doctor will insert a long tube with a lens to look inside of the urethra and bladder.
UTI Prevention: How To Prevent Urinary Tract Infections
Now that you know why a UTI can happen and I’m sure you don’t want anything to do with urinary tract infections, let’s jump into how you can keep them at bay. What’s the one thing that seems to be the cure for everything? Well, water, of course! If you’re not drinking enough liquid then you could be irritating your bladder lining.
Empty That Bladder
Do you feel like you’re not emptying your bladder out completely? If so, this could increase your risk of a UTI. Women with weakened pelvic floors are more likely to have trouble getting everything out. If you suspect that you’re not completely emptying your bladder, then schedule an appointment with your doctor. Post-menopausal women and those that have experienced childbirth are more likely to have a weakened pelvic floor which can lead to a UTI.
Front To Back, Side To Side
Do you wipe back to front or front to back? Make sure you’re wiping front to back to avoid getting a UTI. Otherwise, you could be spreading germs from your anus to your bladder.
Sleep or Pee?
After doing the hanky panky you’re probably tempted to just roll over and fall asleep. Don’t! Get up and go pee. Peeing right after you have sex can help prevent the spread of fecal bacteria to the bladder which helps prevent urinary tract infections.
Cranberries for the Win
Like cranberry juice? Then feel free to pour up a big glass of it if you suspect a UTI is brewing. Unsweetened cranberry juice that contains sulfuric acid prevents bacteria from just hanging out and multiplying on the walls of the bladder.
Tight Jeans No More
While those tight pants might look great on your bum, they’re not letting your lady parts breathe. Forgo the tight jeans and don’t sit around in wet clothes. That’s how bacteria multiplies and later turns into a UTI.
What’s Up With Birth Control?
Last, but certainly not least, check your birth control. We know that condoms and IUDs can increase your risk of a UTI, but what about hormonal contraceptives? It turns out that the progestins in birth control might up our stress levels and weaken our immune function. The result? We’re more likely to catch a cold, respond to allergens, or get the mischievous UTI. However, sometimes it’s just a matter of having sex more. If you and your partner start getting down more after starting birth control, then that could increase your chances of a UTI.
Are Bladder Leaks and UTIs Cousins?
Well, maybe calling them cousins is a little bizarre, but they are certainly linked to one another. Sometimes a UTI can cause urinary incontinence. The bladder irritation from the infection can cause you to have a strong urge to pee. On the flip side, bladder leakage can also cause a UTI, because urine traps moisture that harbors bacteria.
Hormones Can Wreak Havoc
Post-menopausal women undergo a lot of hormonal changes that interfere with their pelvic floor, such as the decline of estrogen. Estrogen actually supports muscle function, so when there’s a decline of it, the muscles begin to weaken and lose their flexibility. As a result, women may start experiencing the occasional spritz. A little leakage can breed a UTI if precautions aren’t taken.
Use The Right Product
Women that are new to bladder leaks often use a pantyliner, which aren’t designed to handle urine or protect your skin. Instead, look for products that are specifically designed for bladder leaks. They’re designed to keep you fresh, dry, and comfortable. Remember, bacteria thrives in wet areas so you want to keep things dry as much as possible if you want to avoid a UTI.
Have You Learned Enough?
All this talk about UTIs probably has you uncomfortably crossing and uncrossing your legs or readjusting your pants to fit a little looser. If so, that’s good! Urinary tract infections are not fun to have. You’re now armed with knowledge on not only what causes them, but also how to prevent them.
What tricks do you have up your sleeve for dealing with UTIs? Tell us about them in the comments! And, if you want more health and wellness articles like this, like us on Facebook.
By Jessica Thomas, MPH