Urinary Tract Infections: Know The Shocking Facts About It
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common; they send more than eight million people to their doctors every year.
For 70 to 80 percent of those who see a doctor for UTI treatment, the infection goes away after a round of antibiotics and that’s the end of the story. But for 20 to 30 percent of UTI sufferers, the infection comes back – and then keeps coming back, again and again.
If you’re one of the unlucky few who sufferers from recurrent UTIs, there’s a lot you need to know to manage these infections and safeguard your health. Sometimes, UTIs can be the result of an underlying condition. If left untreated, they can spread to the kidneys, and become life-threatening.
And if you’ve had several UTIs in one year, despite practicing preventative care and seeking treatment, it’s time to see a urologist, who may be able to offer a longer-term management strategy.
Common Causes of UTIs
If you’re a woman, your very anatomy puts you at risk of UTIs. Many UTIs occur when E. coli bacteria from the GI tract make their way up the urethra and into the bladder. That’s more common in women because they have much shorter urethras than men, and the opening of a woman’s urethra is much closer to the anus.
Bacteria from the anus can make their way across the perineum and up the urethra – or be forced up there during sexual intercourse – and cause an infection. That’s why you may have heard that peeing after sex prevents UTIs; it flushes out the urethra, so that bacteria don’t gain a foothold.
Some women may be genetically more susceptible to UTIs than others. Other factors that can contribute to recurrent UTIs include poor hygiene practices; wiping front-to-back and keeping clean can help. Older women may be more prone to UTIs because of their lower estrogen levels, and in men, chronic prostatitis can cause recurrent UTIs.
The use of certain soaps or lubricants, condoms, or spermicide can irritate the urethra, creating a more favorable environment for infection. Not voiding the bladder completely when you go to the bathroom can also contribute to recurrent UTIs, since urine retention in the bladder creates an environment that allows bacteria to proliferate.
When a UTI Isn’t (Just) a UTI
But, sometimes, UTIs can be a sign of something more serious. Underlying conditions that suppress the immune system can contribute to UTIs; these include diabetes.
Abnormalities of the urinary tract, including kidney stones, enlarged prostate, or congenital problems, can lead to problems voiding the bladder completely.
UTIs can also spread to the kidneys, resulting in a potentially life-threatening infection. If you experience abdominal pain or back pain, continued painful urination, nausea, or chills, it could be a sign that you have developed a kidney infection, even if your UTI symptoms appear to have cleared up. You’ll need stronger antibiotics, and may need to be hospitalized to treat a kidney infection.
Perhaps the scariest, and most serious, underlying cause of recurrent UTIs could be bladder cancer. UTI symptoms that don’t improve with treatment could, according to recent research, indicate bladder cancer. This is just as true for women as it is for men, even though men are considered to be at higher risk for bladder cancer.
However, since doctors tend to look for blood in the urine as the first symptom of bladder cancer, and since UTIs are so common, they may miss bladder cancer in patients with recurrent UTIs.
When to See a Urologist
If you’ve made multiple trips to seek treatment for a UTI at urgent care or your primary care provider this year, it may be time to see a urologist, especially if you’re also practicing preventive care like staying clean, wiping front-to-back, peeing after sex, avoiding diaphragm use, and taking D-mannose or cranberry supplements.
A urologist will probably want to take urine samples each time you get a UTI, so that he or she can perform urine cultures to narrow down the specific type of bacteria that’s causing your UTIs. This can point to a specific cause, as well as allowing for more targeted treatment.
A urologist may also want to investigate and address underlying conditions that could be causing your recurrent UTI symptoms.
If you continue to have recurrent infections under the care of a urologist, he or she may recommend prophylactic antibiotics, or low doses of antibiotics that you can take regularly to prevent urinary tract infections.
UTIs are no joke – not only are they extremely painful, they can lead to serious complications. If you’re experiencing recurrent UTIs, it’s time to see a urologist. With specialist treatment, you should be able to manage your infections – and you may even be able to kiss them goodbye.
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