Urinary tract infections can occur in any part of your urinary system, though most often they will happen in the bladder and urethra. They are more common in women, and while mild infections can cause pain and be a nuisance, more severe infections can become a serious health condition, especially if the infection spreads upwards to the ureters and kidneys. For this reason, it is important to treat UTI's as soon as you start having symptoms.
The common symptoms of a UTI include:
- Increased urge to urinate, with increased frequency
- Pain and burning with urination
- Cloudy or pink urine
- Strong smelling urine
- Pelvic pain, or abdominal pain
- With more severe infections that have reached the kidney - upper back pain, fever, chills, nausea or vomiting
UTI's are usually caused by the bacteria E. Coli transmitted from the digestive tract, though they can also be caused by other infectious agents. Because certain STD's can have symptoms similar to a UTI, it is important to see a physician to be tested if you have you are at risk for any sexually transmitted disease.
The urinary system has a natural defense mechanism against infection, but certain risk factors will increase your likelihood of getting a UTI. These include being female, being sexually active, using diaphragms or spermicides, having a weak immune system, having an enlarged prostate, or having kidney stones. Women going through menopause are also at a higher risk because decreased estrogen levels make the urinary tract more vulnerable to infection.
It is especially important to receive immediate treatment for a UTI if you are pregnant, as untreated infections are associated with low birth weight in infants. Also, young children with UTI's are more susceptible to kidney infection, so immediate treatment is important in these cases as well.
The conventional method for treating a common UTI is the use of antibiotics. There are a number of antibiotics used for treating UTI's, and generally symptoms will begin to clear within a few days of starting the medication. It is important to continue taking the antibiotic even if all symptoms are gone to be sure the infection is fully cleared.
Even with the use of antibiotics, some people will continue to have recurring UTI's. Usually it is women who experience this, and in these cases it is helpful to look to other areas of health that are leaving you more susceptible to infection, as repeated courses of antibiotics can lead to resistant strains of bacteria and make your immune system weaker. If you are suffering from chronic recurring urinary tract infections, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk and improve the health of your urinary tract.
Tips for Reducing Urinary Tract Infections
- For women, wiping from front to back after urination reduces the risk of infection.
- Urinating and washing soon after sexual intercourse helps flush bacteria that may have been acquired during sex.
- Drink a lot of water. This will help flush out the urinary system.
- Avoid food or drink in your diet which contain a lot of refined sugar. This weakens your immune response and provides food for bacterial growth
- Cranberry juice can be taken in supplement or juice form, and helps increase the acidity of your urinary tract and prevent bacteria of sticking to the cell walls. The best form of cranberry juice to drink is in pure, non-sweetened form, as the cranberry juice "cocktails" usually have sugar added to them.
- Vitamin C, and vitamin-C rich foods such as citrus fruits can increase the acidity of your urinary tract and boost immunity, which makes it more resistant to bacteria.
- Avoid intake of alcohol as this weakens the immune system.
- Caffeine, dairy, and processed foods may also trigger infections in certain people. If you notice UTI's tend to come on after certain things in your diet, avoid these foods or beverages.
- Feminine hygiene sprays and douches may cause irritation of the urethra and increase susceptibility to infection.
For recurring mild urinary tract infections, there are a number of natural medicines in addition to cranberry that may help reduce infection.
- Uva-Ursi: This is a herb with anti-bacterial properties that has an affinity for the urinary tract.
- D-Mannose: This is a simple sugar that helps to prevent bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract.
- Other remedies: Herbs such as Echinacea, goldenseal, and Oregon grape have immune boosting and anti-bacterial properties. Other herbs such as dandelion, stinging nettle or corn silk have diuretic properties which can soothe help flush out bacteria.
- Probiotics: Healthy bacteria are a normal component of the urinary and reproductive systems, and if these are decreased or out of balance it can lead to increased infection. Taking a probiotic supplement with acidophilus can help prevent and decrease infection. Probiotics are also important to take after any course of antibiotics, as antibiotics decrease the amount of healthy bacteria in our bodies. This will decrease the risk of recurring infection.
- Hormone Replacement: For women who are undergoing menopause, decreased estrogen levels can increase the incidence of UTI's. Hormone replacement with bio-identical hormones can help raise estrogen levels and reduce infections.
Many natural supplements are combination formulas which contain a number of the natural remedies listed here. If you looking for a natural route in treating a UTI, these can be helpful, along with following the other health tips, in clearing an infection.
Stress and Recurring UTI's
Stress is not just in your mind - it is really a physical thing and affects your health. Too much stress in the body can make pretty much any health condition worse, and UTI's are no exception. Many people will find that their UTI's occur much more commonly during times of stress. The hormones released by having too much stress can lead to a weakened immune system, leaving you much more susceptible to any type of infection. Stress hormones also raise blood sugar levels, which will causes bacteria to replicate and make infections worse.
Especially in dealing with chronic UTI's, it is important to address any areas in your life that may be increasing stress levels, as well as to examine behaviors caused by stress that may increase risk for an infection. For example, some people may eat more junk food or drink alcohol when stressed, and this will only make matters worse. Doing what you can to reduce stress in your life can go a long way in preventing chronic UTI's from happening.
In general, a UTI is more a nuisance than a serious health condition, though in serious cases it is important to receive immediate medical attention. In preventing chronic mild cases, rather than accept them as an inevitable and annoying part of life, it is possible to greatly reduce or even completely prevent them by following simple health care tips, reducing stress, and taking natural medicines.By Jason Petersen ND