Women’s Health: Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

About 1 out of 5 women will get a urinary tract infection (UTI) in her life. Some women get lots of UTIs. Men get UTIs too, but not as often.

What is the urinary tract? Your urinary tract is made up of these parts:

  • Kidneys.
  • Bladder.
  • Ureters (tubes that connect the kidney to the bladder).
  • Urethra (the tube that connects the bladder to the outside).

How do we get UTIs? Usually, bacteria get in the urethra and go to the bladder. They grow in the bladder and move to other parts of the urinary tract.

Bacteria can get into a woman’s urethra during sex. You should urinate before and after sex to flush the bacteria out. Women who use a diaphragm for birth control have an increased risk of getting a UTI. Changes that happen when you get pregnant and after menopause can also make you prone to UTIs.

Some people are born with urinary tract problems that cause them to get UTIs. Anything that keeps you from passing urine freely can lead to UTIs. Kidney stones or stones in the ureters are 2 examples. You are also more likely to get a UTI if you have had them before.

Sometimes you don’t even know you have a UTI. Most often, you will have symptoms, though. They come suddenly with no warning.
Here are some of them:

  • A strong need to urinate.
  • Urinating more often than usual. This is also a symptom of diabetes.
  • A sharp pain or burning in the urethra when you pass urine.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Feeling like your bladder is still full after you pass urine.
  • Soreness in your belly, back or sides.
  • Chills, fever, sick stomach and/or throwing up.
  • See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms. A UTI can be serious if you don’t treat it. The doctor will test a sample of your urine to find the problem.
  • How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

Here are some things you can do:

  • Wipe from front to back after using the toilet. This keeps bacteria away from the urethra.
  • Drink plenty of liquids to flush bacteria out your body.
  • Drink fruit juices, especially cranberry juice.
  • Empty your bladder as soon as you feel the urge. Don’t give bacteria a chance to grow.
  • Drink a glass of water before you have sex. Go to the bathroom before and as soon as you can after sex, even if you don’t feel the need to.
  • Use a water-soluble lubricant like K-Y Jelly if you use a lubricant when you have sex.
  • Wear cotton underpants. Bacteria like a warm, wet place. Cotton helps keep you cool and dry because it lets air flow through it.
  • Don’t take bubble baths if you have had UTIs before. Take showers instead of baths.
  • Don’t wear tight jeans, pants or underpants.
  • If you use a diaphragm, clean it after each use. Have your doctor check it periodically to make sure it still fits properly. The size may need to be changed if you gain or lose weight, or if you have a baby. Replace your diaphragm according to your doctor’s advice.

Questions to Ask

Do you have any of these symptoms?

  • Fever and chills.
  • Back pain in one or both sides of your lower back.
  • Burning when you pass urine.
  • Passing urine a lot more often than usual.
  • Bloody or cloudy urine.
  • Pain in your belly.
  • Sick to your stomach or throwing up.
Yes:See Doctor

Do you go to the bathroom a lot even at night?

Yes:See Doctor

Do you have any of these problems?

  • Do you feel like your bladder is still full after you go to the bathroom?
  • Does it sting when you pass urine?
  • Does your belly hurt over your bladder?
  • Does your urine smell bad?
  • Does it hurt to have sex?
Yes:See Doctor

Have you had symptoms for more than 3 days without getting better? Did drugs the doctor prescribed give you side effects such as a skin rash or make you sick?

Yes:Call Doctor

Do you get UTIs a lot?

Yes:Call Doctor

Self-Care/Prevention Procedures

  • Avoid alcohol, spicy foods and coffee.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Cranberry juice is good, too. Fluids help wash out the infection.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • If you have a UTI, check for fever twice a day. Take your temperature in the morning and then in the afternoon or evening if you suspect you might have a UTI or to see if treatment is improving.
  • Take aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium for fever and/or pain.

    [Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone under 19 years of age or younger, unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye’s Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.]

  • Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the need.
  • Empty your bladder completely every time you pass urine.
    • If you have a condition that keeps you from doing this, such as that which occurs in some persons with multiple sclerosis, ask your doctor about using intermittent self-catheters.

  • Empty your bladder before and after sex.
  • Clean with soap and water or “moist towelettes” after bowel movements. Do the same thing after having sex.
  • Change to clean underwear if you see stool soiling.

[Note: See your doctor if you don’t feel better in 3 days.]

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021