By Kathy Hubbard
Urinary tract infections are very common. How common, you ask? Urology Care Foundation estimates that ten out of 25 women and three out of 25 men will have symptoms of a UTI during their lifetime. And, it’s not just about adults. Roughly 2.5 percent of all children, most commonly those under the age of five, will also get a UTI.
To understand how a urinary tract infection occurs, it helps to know how our urinary tract works. “Urine is made in the kidneys and travels down the ureters to the bladder. The bladder stores the urine until it is emptied by urinating through the urethra, a tube that connects the bladder to the skin. The opening of the urethra is at the end of the penis in a male and above the vaginal opening in a female,” UCF explains.
A urinary tract infection occurs when the bacteria, of which there are many in the area we call “down there” travel up the urethra into the bladder, or further into the kidneys. Women are more apt to get a UTI because women have shorter urethras than men, so bacteria have a shorter distance to travel. Plus, the opening of a woman’s urethra is near the anus and vagina/birth canal.
“During puberty, young women may get UTIs. This peak is often linked to the onset of sexual activity,” UCF says. And, they also say that women who use diaphragms have been found to have a higher risk of UTIs when compared to other forms of birth control.
“Women who have gone through menopause have a change in the lining of the vagina and lose the protection that estrogen provides,” UCF says.
Men over 70 are at a higher risk because of problems going to the bathroom and/or emptying the bladder. Often an enlarged prostate can be the culprit, as can some medications and conditions such as diabetes. Using incontinence protection products can also add to the risk.
Now that we established that everyone is at risk, what are the symptoms we should be looking for? Mayo Clinic says that not all urinary tract infections show symptoms, but when they do they include “a strong, persistent urge to urinate; a burning sensation when urinating; passing frequent, small amounts of urine; urine that appears cloudy; urine that appears red, bright pink or cola-colored (a sign of blood in the urine); strong-smelling urine, and pelvic pain in women.”
In the elderly, symptoms may include confusion, incontinence, agitation, lethargy, falls, urinary retention decreased mobility, and reduced appetite, particularly for those in assisted living or nursing home facilities. Although the connection between UTIs and confusion is well-established, the reason is unknown.
UCF suggests that parents can help lower the risk of their child getting a UTI by making sure they stay hydrated. “It’s also important to go over or teach good ‘toilet habits’ with kids, such as going to the bathroom often and making sure they don’t hold their urine.”
Women should empty their bladders after sex and drink a full glass of water to help flush bacteria; wipe from front to back; avoid potentially irritating feminine products such as deodorant sprays, and change feminine protection products often. Women who use spermicidal foam and diaphragms should talk to the medico about perhaps using a different type of birth control.
Everyone should drink plenty of fluids to keep well hydrated. Drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry tablets, which is often touted as being a help in preventing UTIs won’t hurt, but no science proves its effectiveness. However, for the record, several reliable websites recommend it.
If you suspect a urinary tract infection, you must see your healthcare provider who will examine the urine under a microscope for bacteria or white blood cells that signal signs of infection. Then, most likely, he or she will prescribe a course of antibiotics. You must take all of the prescribed medication even if your symptoms have cleared up to prevent a reoccurrence.
Call the medico if you ever see blood in your urine or if your symptoms include a fever. Further tests may be needed to ascertain whether you have a UTI or another type of urinary tract issue.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.