What you need to know about Urinary tract infections

Do you feel the urge to wee, only to get to the toilet and pass a small amount of urine, with no relief? Is it painful to wee? You may possibly have a urinary tract infection. It’s a common condition, but it can get very serious, if you don’t get treatment.

What exactly is a urinary tract infection?

It’s an infection that involves the kidneys, ureters, bladder and/or urethra. Most urinary tract infections occur when bacteria get into your urinary system via the urethra (the little hole where you pass urine). These bacteria can spread, growing in your bladder and even up to the kidneys. Less commonly, bacteria can reach the urinary tract via the bloodstream.

How would I know if I have a urinary tract infection?

  • burning sensation when urinating
  • feeling a need to urinate very often, but passing little urine in most cases
  • nausea, vomiting
  • lower abdominal pain and/or lower back pain
  • fever and/or chills
  • urine that looks cloudy or may contain blood
  • smelly urine
  • feeling tired

What are some of the risk factors for getting a urinary tract infection?

  • women are at greater risk than men
  • pregnancy
  • diabetes
  • immune-suppressed patients
  • if there is an anatomical abnormality of the urinary tract
  • multiple sclerosis
  • kidney stones
  • stroke or spinal cord injury
  • menopause (due to decreased oestrogen)
  • an enlarged prostate gland
  • recent urological operation
  • use of a catheter

Why are women at greater risk of having a urinary tract infection than men?

It comes down to a design issue: the urethra is shorter in women than in men. Also, the urethral opening is close to the anus and the vaginal opening, so bacteria can move from the anus or vagina if you don’t wipe correctly, or when you have sex.

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How are urinary tract infections treated?

Most urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics, and painkillers for the discomfort. In addition, you need to drink enough fluid (2 litres of water per day) to flush your kidneys. If a woman is menopausal, vaginal oestrogen can also be prescribed.

If you often get urinary tract infections, you should see a Urologist. He may need to do certain tests, like urine tests, sonar/ultrasound, cystoscopy, bilateral retrograde studies, CT etc. For recurring infections, a low dose antibiotic for a longer period of time (3-6 months) may be necessary

Is there anything I can do to prevent a urinary tract infection?

  • listen to your body: empty your bladder as soon as you get the urge to urinate
  • make sure that you empty your bladder completely
  • drink 2 litres of water per day
  • shower rather than bath
  • wash the genital area before having sex
  • empty your bladder immediately before, and immediately after sex
  • in certain cases, a single dose antibiotic may be necessary after sex, to prevent an infection (especially in women who are prone to recurrent infections)
  • women must always wipe from front to back, after a bowel movement
  • avoid bubble-baths and scented feminine hygiene products
  • avoid tight-fitting clothes (jeans, lycra) and wear cotton underwear only
  • drinking cranberry extract can maybe help prevent some urinary tract infections, but studies have been inconsistent
  • avoid using spermicides, un-lubricated condoms and diaphragms