What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is one of the most common infections in the human body. More often than not, these infections are caused by tiny bacteria called microbes entering the urinary tract. Although certain fungi and viruses can also be the source of a UTI, these are rare.
UTIs can affect any part of the urinary tract, including the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. Most women, however, experience an infection of the bladder, which is more commonly known as Cystitis. However there are some key differences between a condition like Interstitial Cystitis and a UTI.
In this article, we’ll cover the complete guide to urinary tract infections, including causes, symptoms, preventions, and natural ways to stop recurring bladder infections.
What Causes a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection is generally caused by bacteria entering the urethra via the rectum. And although this can happen to men too, it is more common in women. This is due to the location of the urethra and the fact that it is shorter in women than in men.
Main Causes from Bacteria:
Escherichia coli (E. coli): This bacterium is the most common cause of UTIs. It is usually found in the gastrointestinal tract and can enter the urinary tract through the urethra.
Staphylococcus saprophyticus: Another common bacteria responsible for UTIs, particularly in younger women.
Klebsiella pneumoniae: This bacterium is less commonly involved but can cause UTIs, particularly in hospital settings.
Proteus mirabilis: This bacterium can cause UTIs, particularly in people with complicated urinary systems or catheters.
Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium: These bacteria are more commonly seen in hospital-acquired infections.
The urethra is the tube where urine exits the body from the bladder. In a woman’s body, the urethra is quite close to both the vagina and the anus. Additionally, the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections tend to thrive around the anus. Thus, in women’s bodies, bacterial microbes can pass more easily from the anus to the urethra.
And because a woman’s urethra is short, the bacteria can then pass easily and quickly into the bladder or kidneys.
In addition, failure to keep the genital area hygienic and dry can lead to urinary tract infections Bacterial microbes can also enter the urethra during sex, or while women are pregnant. Not drinking enough water, which naturally flushes toxins from the body, can also increase the risk of UTIs.
Kidney stones or other conditions which make it difficult to empty the bladder are also culprits. As well as a weakened immune system while undergoing treatment for another condition such as cancer or diabetes. Elderly people or those using catheters for long periods are also vulnerable.
How to Know if You Have a UTI (Symptoms)
Knowing if you have a UTI is possible by first identifying symptoms and paying attention to where those symptoms are occurring. Symptoms of a UTI will depend on which part of the urinary tract is infected. While most UTIs typically occur in the urethra or bladder located in the lower urinary tract, a small percentage can occur in the upper urinary tract i.e. the ureters and kidneys.
Even though upper urinary tract infections are rare, they are also more serious.
Symptoms associated with lower urinary tract infections include a frequent urge to urinate, a burning sensation while urinating, and bladder pain in the lower belly or pelvic area. Additionally, urine may have a strong odor and look cloudy, like the color of tea, or become slightly pink with blood.
Upper tract infections can cause symptoms like fever, chills, vomiting, as well as pain in the upper back and side body.
Sexual Activity: Sexual intercourse can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract, making sexually active women more susceptible to UTIs.
Female Anatomy: Women are more prone to UTIs than men due to the shorter length of their urethra, which allows bacteria quicker access to the bladder.
Catheter Use: People who use urinary catheters are at a higher risk for UTIs.
Age: Older adults are more susceptible, partly because of a weakened immune system and, in men, an enlarged prostate can obstruct the flow of urine, leading to infection.
Pregnancy: Hormonal changes and shifts in the position of the urinary tract can make pregnant women more susceptible to UTIs.
Diabetes: High sugar levels can make it easier for bacteria to grow in the urinary tract.
Urinary Retention: Conditions that prevent complete emptying of the bladder can increase the risk of UTIs.
Immunosuppression: A weakened immune system makes it easier for bacterial infections to take hold.
Previous UTIs: Having had a UTI increases the risk of having another.
Use of Spermicides: These can alter the normal bacterial flora of the vagina, making UTIs more likely.
Kidney Stones or Other Obstructions of the Urinary Tract: These can trap urine in the bladder, making it easier for bacteria to grow.
How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections During & After Sex
The best way to prevent a UTI after sex is to urinate. This method is widely recommended by women’s health experts to help clear the urethra of any bacteria caused by sexual intercourse. A gentle wash of the genital area with warm water and unscented soap also helps.
Spermicides are thought to increase the risk of UTIs due to their ability to change the natural pH of the vagina and alter the microbiome. So it is advised that women experiencing recurring UTIs or cystitis, should refrain from using spermicides.
Additionally, it is believed that the friction caused by non-lubricated condoms during intercourse can irritate the skin and increase the risk of a UTI.
Urinary Tract Infections and Menopause
Estrogen helps to maintain a healthy pH balance in the vaginal microbiome. And during perimenopause and menopause, estrogen levels incrementally drop as the body prepares to shut down the reproductive system. When estrogen production drops, the vaginal microbiome can be more susceptible to urinary tract infections.
Additionally, physical changes in menopausal women can contribute to the risk of bladder infections. Thinning of the vaginal tissue, for example, prolapse of the pelvic organs, or difficulty completely emptying the bladder when urinating can all contribute to UTIs during menopause.
Urinary Tract Infections During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, the body produces more protein, sugar, and hormones. And the additional amounts of each are also present in pregnant women’s urine. Making them more vulnerable to urinary tract infections.
The growing uterus in pregnant women can also press on the bladder, meaning it is more difficult to empty the bladder.
UTIs during pregnancy can result in high blood pressure and serious cases can cause premature birth or complications for newborns. Therefore, any pregnant women who suspect they may have a urinary tract infection should see their doctor immediately.
How to Treat Urinary Tract Infections
To treat a UTI, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. UTIs will not go away by themselves. And they become more serious, the longer they are left untreated.
After asking for a urine sample, your doctor will check for white blood cells, as well as bacterial microbes and fungi. This test will allow your doctor to determine if the infection is bacterial, viral or fungi-based, and to prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Bacterial UTIs are generally treated with antibiotics. Antivirals are used to treat viral UTIs. And antifungals are used to treat fungal UTIs.
Contrary to belief, cranberries and cranberry juice do not treat UTIs once they have begun. However, cranberry juice can help prevent recurring UTIs by stopping any future harmful bacteria from attaching to the bladder lining.
Read on to learn more about preventing bladder infections and UTIs.
Natural Ways to Prevent Urinary Tracts Infections
As well as a daily intake of cranberry supplements, drinking 1-2 liters of water every day will help flush any bacterial microbes from the urinary tract, urethra, or bladder.
Additionally, when urinating, allow yourself to get comfortable on the toilet and focus on emptying the bladder.
Wash the genital area regularly with warm water and unscented soap. Always wipe from front to back after using the toilet.
For extra help in preventing recurring bladder infections, women’s health experts recommend natural supplements of D-Mannose to stop bacteria from sticking to the wall of the bladder.
Freeze Dried Aloe Vera Supplements with D-Mannose & Calcium from Intimate Rose, for example, when taken in conjunction with medical treatments will help to soothe bladder and urinary tract infections.
When taken on an ongoing preventative basis, however, the added D-Mannose will discourage any future harmful bacteria from adhering to the bladder. And the alkalizing calcium will help to maintain a healthy pH balance in the vagina.
Probiotics, such as the Flora Bloom Probiotics for Women from Intimate Rose, are also widely suggested for ongoing vaginal health and preventing recurring UTIs.
If you suspect you may have a urinary tract infection, it is best to seek treatment with your doctor right away. Urinary tract infections will go away without treatment, however, there are everyday habits you can develop to prevent UTIs and bladder infections from recurring.
When considering a natural supplement or UTI home remedies, it is always best to speak with your health practitioner first to consider any reactions it could have with existing medications.
Mayo Clinic – Urinary Tract Infection - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20353447
National Center for Biotechnical Information - Sexual Behavior and Urinary Tract Infections - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7188810/
Infectious Disease Society of America - Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections in Postmenopausal Women - https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/30/1/152/320582
National Center for Biotechnical Information -Prevalence of Urinary Tract Infection Among Pregnant Women and its Complications in Their Newborns - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4585427/
European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences - A promising support for acute urinary tract infections in women. A pilot study.
National Center for Biotechnology Information - Probiotics for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections in women: a review of the evidence from microbiological and clinical studies