Recurrent Urinary Tract Infection, UTI

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is a bacterial infection that can be located in any part of your body’s urinary system. In both males and females, the urinary system is comprised of the:  

  • Kidneys: A pair of organs responsible for filtering waste out of the blood to make urine. 
  • Ureters: The tubes through which urine leaves the kidneys and enters the bladder. 
  • Bladder: A hollow, expandable sac that stores urine. 
  • Urethra: The tube that takes urine from the bladder to exit the body. 

A UTI can be a one-time incident, or it may become a recurring (or repeating) problem. If you have two UTIs in a six-month period, or three UTIs in a 12-month period, most urologic physicians  will classify it as a recurrent UTI. 

Causes of a UTI

UTIs occur when harmful bacteria enter the urinary system. In most cases, the bacteria arrive in the urinary system by way of the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine out of the body. Once the bacteria are inside the body, they can start to multiply. This multiplication process typically takes place within the bladder.  

There are many ways to get a UTI — especially for women. In fact, women have a much higher risk than men of developing UTIs. Why? It all comes down to the female anatomy. Because a woman’s urethra opening is located so close to the anus, it’s easy for bacteria in the anal region to come in contact with the urethra and enter the body. (This can happen during sex, or when a woman wipes after using the bathroom.) 

Women also have shorter urethras than men, which further increases their chances of getting a UTI. This is due to the fact that once bacteria enter the urethra, they have only a short distance to travel before reaching the bladder; and once in the bladder, the bacteria can start to multiply and cause an infection. 

Changes in vaginal bacteria can lead to UTIs in women as well. If a woman frequently changes the bacterial composition of her vagina (which may occur from using certain products, such as spermicides or vaginal douches), a UTI can form as a result. Hormonal variations during menopause can also cause bacterial changes that may lead to UTIs. (Women going through menopause may also start to lose estrogen in the vagina, which further increases UTI risk as estrogen is typically a protectant against such infections.) 

Of course, UTIs don’t only affect women. Men can develop UTIs, too. Here are a few common causes of UTIs that affect both sexes: 

  • System Blockages: If the bladder is unable to empty completely, it gives bacteria an ideal environment in which to grow. Kidney stones or urinary tract abnormalities may cause this, as well as an enlarged prostate in men.
  • Medical Interventions: Urinary surgery, a urinary tract exam and catheters can all increase a person’s risk for developing a UTI. 
  • Compromised Immune Systems: People with diseases such as diabetes are more likely to be affected by UTIs because their immune systems (which fight germs) may not be working effectively.

UTI Prevention

Wondering how to stop a UTI before it starts? It’s important to understand that UTIs cannot always be prevented — and not all risk factors can be eliminated. However, there are a few habits you can adopt to help reduce your overall risk:  

  • If you’re a woman, it’s a good idea to urinate after you have sex. Doing so may help rid the urethra of any bacteria that may have entered the body during sexual activity. 
  • Women should always wipe from front to back (rather than back to front) after using the bathroom. This minimizes the chance for anal bacteria to come in contact with the urethra. 
  • Because spermicides and vaginal douches may lead to UTIs (as well as diaphragms — a form of birth control), women should consider using alternative products if UTIs are a concern. 
  • Both men and women should stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and never postpone urination after feeling the urge to go.

UTI Symptoms

What does a UTI feel like? The answer may depend on where the infection occurs. While most UTIs stay in the bladder, infections may make their way farther up the urinary tract to reach the kidneys.  

For infections in the bladder, symptoms might include: 

  • Cloudy or strong-smelling urine 
  • Blood in the urine (which may cause it to turn red, pink or brown) 
  • Frequent urination 
  • Pain or burning when urinating 
  • Pressure or discomfort in the pelvic area or lower abdomen 

If your UTI is affecting the kidneys, you might experience nausea, vomiting and pain in the upper back and side. You may also develop a fever and have chills. UTIs in the kidneys are especially dangerous, so speak to your doctor immediately if you are experiencing these symptoms.

UTI Diagnosis

If you have symptoms of a UTI, your doctor will likely request a urine sample. The urine will be checked by a medical professional for signs of bacteria. A urine culture test may also be ordered, as it can help your doctor determine the specific bacteria affecting your body and the medications that will best fight them. 

For cases of recurrent UTIs, additional testing may be necessary. Sometimes, abnormalities in the urinary system are the cause of recurrent UTIs. If abnormalities are suspected, an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI may be used to take images of your urinary tract. Your doctor will examine the images to detect any abnormalities. 

Occasionally, a cystoscopy will be performed in people who are experiencing recurrent UTIs. A cystoscopy allows your doctor to see inside your urethra and bladder. In performing a cystoscopy, your doctor will insert a thin tube (with a lens attached to the end of it) into your urethra and direct it up into the bladder. The resulting images can help your doctor spot any potential problems. 

UTI Treatment

Treatment for your UTI will depend on whether or not it is considered a simple or complicated UTI. If you are experiencing a recurrent UTI, this can also affect your treatment plan.  

Simple UTI Treatment

A UTI is classified as “simple” when the individual is otherwise healthy and has a urinary system with no abnormalities. In these cases, a course of antibiotics is usually all that is necessary to fight the infection. (Your doctor may also prescribe pain medication, if necessary, to offer UTI relief.) 

Complicated UTI Treatment

Complicated UTIs are those that occur in people with abnormalities in their urinary system, or infections caused by bacteria that are not easily treated by most antibiotics. If your UTI is affecting your kidneys, that will also likely cause your infection to be considered “complicated.” 

To treat complicated UTIs, a longer round of antibiotics will likely be prescribed. You may need to go to the hospital to receive the initial antibiotics via IV. 

Recurrent UTI Treatment Guidelines

For a recurrent UTI, your doctor may prescribe a long-term course of antibiotics to be taken at a low dosage. If sexual activity is deemed to be the cause of your recurrent UTI, your doctor might recommend that you take an antibiotic after having sex. 

For women who are experiencing UTIs during menopause, vaginal estrogen therapy may be helpful in fighting future infections.

Recurrent UTI Complications

Some people wonder: Can you self-treat a UTI? If you are experiencing symptoms of a UTI, you should always seek medical attention. Your symptoms may actually be a sign of another medical issue; and if you do indeed have a UTI, a course of antibiotics will be necessary to fight off the infection. 

If you fail to treat your UTI in a timely manner, or if you suffer from long-term, recurring UTIs , complications can occur. These include: 

  • Kidney disease or damage 
  • Sepsis — a life-threatening response to an infection that can cause organ failure 
  • Delivering a baby prematurely (if you experience a UTI while pregnant) 

Turn to Sauk Prairie Healthcare for Expert Help

Don’t let a UTI disrupt your life or cause you undue pain. Get the help you need — right when you need it most — at Sauk Prairie Healthcare. We pride ourselves on providing a warm, soothing environment where you can discuss your symptoms comfortably. Furthermore, our Urologist specializes in conditions of the urinary tract and can offer you an accurate diagnosis, as well as an effective course of treatment. It is our goal to get you back to feeling your best as quickly and conveniently as possible.  

Schedule your appointment today by calling 608-643-7262.

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