It is estimated that one in five women will get a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) sometime during her lifetime. A UTI, also known as a bladder infection or cystitis, occurs when bacteria enters the bladder and infects the urinary tract. The infection, usually caused by E. coli bacteria, results in redness, swelling and pain in your urethra.
Women are at Highest Risk
Though anyone can get a UTI, women are at higher risk because of their anatomy. “Women’s urethras are shorter than men and positioned where bacteria can enter the urinary tract easier,” says Avni Jain, MD, a primary care physician with Adventist Medical Group.
Regardless of your gender, you may be at higher risk for developing a UTI if you have the following risk factors:
- Urinary tract blockages, such as kidney stones
- A bladder catheter
- Poor bladder control or emptying
Causes of a Urinary Tract Infection
There are several ways harmful bacteria can enter a woman’s bladder. One of the most common is from wiping incorrectly. You should always practice wiping from front to back so bacteria does not enter the urethra. Other causes are:
- Douches, feminine sprays and other scented products that irritate the urethra
- Wearing tightly-fitted pants and wet bathing suit bottoms for too long restricts airflow and can easily trap bacteria in your urethra.
Most women with a UTI experience similar symptoms, but some may not. Common symptoms to look out for include:
- Pain or burning during urination
- Frequent urination
- A strong odor in your urine
- Feeling the need to urinate despite having little to pass
- Cloudy or bloody urine
- A low fever
If you begin to experience pain in your back or sides, a high fever, chills or vomiting, the infection may have spread to your kidneys and you should see your physician as quickly as possible.
If you think you may have a UTI, see your primary care physician or visit an urgent care center. Your physician may order a urine test to determine what is causing your discomfort. Women with frequent UTI cases may also be tested for other conditions to rule out a sexually transmitted infection. To help relieve symptoms drink plenty of fluids such as water and cranberry juice. Though cranberry juice hasn’t been proven to reduce UTIs or symptoms, research suggests it can help. There are also over the counter medications that won’t cure a UTI, but can help relieve your symptoms. “In most cases, antibiotics and other pain-relieving medications are prescribed for a period of five to seven days to cure the infection and ease discomfort,” says Dr. Jain. “Though symptom relief is common after a few days, it is important to take your medication as directed to avoid reinfection.”
“The best way to reduce your risk of getting a UTI is to improve your personal hygiene habits,” says Dr. Jain. “Good hygiene habits for a healthy urinary tract include proper wiping, frequently changing feminine hygiene products and using mild, fragrance-free soaps and urinating right after sexual activity.”
Other tips for a healthier urinary tract is to take showers instead of baths, drink plenty of fluids and to use the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge to go. Dr. Jain says urinary tract infections are common and easily treated. The symptoms cause discomfort but if you seek treatment quickly, you’ll start to feel better within a few days.
Sources: National Kidney Foundation, Centers for Disease Control, U.S. National Library of Medicine