Once you’ve had a urinary tract infection, or UTI, you generally don’t forget what it feels like. Many of us have had them and many of us will. UTIs are very common. In fact, 60% of women and 12% of men will develop a UTI in their lifetime. Because of this, UTIs result in a significant economic burden in terms of healthcare costs and missed workdays and are a leading cause of antibiotic prescriptions. They are also pretty miserable until you get them treated.
Most UTI’s are caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli), but other bacteria can cause infections, as well. The most common symptoms of a UTI include a strong and frequent urge to urinate (even if there’s nothing in your bladder), burning during urination, cloudy or bloody urine and discomfort or pressure in the lower abdomen.
So let’s take a look at some UTI facts and fiction and how we might be able to avoid this dreaded condition.
Fact: While women are more prone to UTIs, men can also get them. UTIs in men are less common (only 12%) but are often more serious and can be a sign of an underlying problem, such as an obstruction in the urinary tract, an enlarged prostate or kidney stones.
Men with UTIs will likely experience similar symptoms, such as burning during urination, frequency and urgency, but they may also experience symptoms like rectal pain, lower abdominal pain or pain in the perineum (the area between the scrotum and anus). UTIs in men are typically treated with antibiotics, but the choice of antibiotics may vary, and duration of treatment will likely be longer.
Fact: Cranberry juice contains antioxidants that help inhibit bacteria, especially E. coli, from attaching to the lining of the urinary tract. Cranberry juice also increases the acidity of urine, creating a less favorable environment for the growth of some bacteria. So pure cranberry juice may aid in preventing a UTI, but not in curing one.
The problem is that the specific concentration of active compounds in cranberry juice can vary widely between different products, and it’s not clear how much one might have to drink to achieve the preventive effects. Cranberry juice should never be used as the treatment of a UTI. Once a UTI is established, antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare provider are typically necessary to clear the infection.
Fact: UTIs can sometimes be asymptomatic, especially in elderly individuals or those with weakened immune systems. Not all UTIs cause severe pain or discomfort.
Fact: Sexual activity can increase the risk of UTIs in some individuals, often referred to as “honeymoon cystitis”, but they can occur for various reasons unrelated to sex, such as urinary tract abnormalities, dehydration, incomplete bladder emptying or catheter use.
Fact: Over the counter (OTC) products like AZO (phenazopyridine) are not designed to treat UTIs themselves, but instead are meant to provide temporary relief from pain, burning and discomfort during urination by numbing the urinary tract lining, temporarily reducing these uncomfortable symptoms. For this reason, they are often recommended or prescribed along with antibiotic treatment.
One common side effect of taking AZO is that it can turn urine bright orange or reddish-orange. This discoloration is harmless but can be alarming to someone unaware of this potential side effect.
Fact: Bladder infections are a type of UTI, but not all urinary tract infections are bladder infections. A UTI is defined as an infection in one or more places in the urinary tract—the ureters, kidneys, urethra and/or bladder. A bladder infection is a UTI that’s only located in the bladder.
Some of the symptoms of urinary tract infections (UTIs) cross over with those of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including a frequent urge to urinate, burning during urination, cloudy or bloody urine and discomfort or pressure in the lower abdomen.
STIs, on the other hand, can manifest in various ways, and sometimes, STIs don’t have any symptoms. While some STIs may cause urinary symptoms similar to those of a UTI, other common symptoms of STIs include genital sores, discharge from the genitals, pain during sex, itching and flu-like symptoms.
To determine whether you have a UTI or an STI, it is essential to consult a healthcare provider. Many STIs can be asymptomatic or cause mild symptoms, so testing is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Early detection and treatment are key to managing both UTIs and STDs effectively.
Yes, you can purchase over the counter (OTC) urinary tract infection (UTI) test kits at many pharmacies and drugstores. The test strip provided in the kit will change color or display lines to indicate the presence or absence of certain substances in your urine, such as leukocytes (white blood cells) or nitrites, which can be elevated in the presence of a UTI.
Even though you can test your urine at home, OTC UTI test kits are not a substitute for being evaluated by a healthcare provider. And if the test is positive, you’ll still need to be prescribed treatment. So, while OTC UTI test kits could be a useful initial screening tool for some individuals, if you suspect you have a UTI or have recurrent UTIs, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and management.
Healthcare providers can often perform a more comprehensive urine dipstick test in the office but can also send your urine for examination under a microscope and a culture and sensitivity, which indicates the best choice of antibiotics for treatment. Also, the urine test ordered by providers offers additional information, like the presence of blood, sugar and protein which can inform the provider about other conditions in your body such as diabetes, kidney disease or cancer.
Drinking plenty of water every day not only helps flush bacteria out of your urinary tract but helps your body in many other ways. Aim to drink enough fluids throughout the day to keep your urine light yellow in color.
If you sit most of the day for work, stand up and walk around once an hour. Prolonged sitting can cause UTIs and interrupting it can help prevent them.
Don’t hold your urine for extended periods of time. When you feel the need to urinate, do so as soon as you can. Holding your urine can allow bacteria to multiply in the urinary tract.
After using the toilet, always wipe from front to back to prevent the spread of bacteria from the anal area to the urethra.
Urinating before and after having sex can help flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urethra during sex.
Barrier methods like condoms can help reduce the risk of UTIs, especially if you have a new sexual partner.
Some individuals find that cranberry juice (it has to be actual cranberry juice, not blends like cran-apple or cran-grape) can help reduce the risk of UTIs. While its effectiveness is debated, it can be worth trying for those prone to UTIs.
Avoid using feminine hygiene products or contraceptives which may cause inflammation, which can increase the risk of infection. These include diaphragms with spermicides and scented hygiene products.
Overusing antibiotics can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the urinary tract and make it more susceptible to infections. Only take antibiotics when prescribed by a healthcare provider and complete the full course as directed.
Conditions like diabetes, obesity and others that compromise you immune system, can increase the risk of UTIs. Managing these conditions can help reduce your risk.
If you experience symptoms of a UTI, such as pain or burning during urination, frequent urination or cloudy urine, it is important to seek medical attention promptly. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment with antibiotics can help prevent the infection from spreading and causing more severe complications.