Urinary tract infections (cystitis) are not rare: in fact, they are the second most common type of infections. Women are especially susceptible: about one in five will suffer from at least one urinary tract infection during their lifetime. This type of infection can be painful and embarrassing, but it can also have serious consequences if it reaches the kidneys.
Urine is usually sterile, which means it does not arbour any microbes (except in some people such as the elderly). Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria, usually from the digestive tract, reach the urinary tract and multiply in the bladder.
The symptoms of urinary tract infections usually include a burning sensation while passing urine as well as a frequent, intense and urgent need to urinate that produces only a small amount of urine. Urine can also present unusual characteristics, such as blurred appearance, foul smell or reddish color from the presence of blood. Urinary tract infections can be prevented. For example, you should drink plenty of fluids and avoid “keeping it in”, so as not to prolong the time urine spends in the bladder. Cranberry juice may have some protective activity but it does not appear to be helpful once an infection is declared. Women should also be careful not to bring bacteria from the anal region to the vagina and urethra when they have a bowel movement. Some also suggest that women drink a glass of water as soon as possible after a sexual relation to help get rid of microorganisms that might have travel up the urethra. Feminine hygiene products, such as spray deodorant, powders or vaginal douches should be avoided because they can irritate the urinary tracts and promote infections. Perfumed bath oils and other bath products should also be avoided. If you think you may have a urinary tract infection, talk to your physician! Treatment usually involves taking an antibiotic for a short period. You could also take an oral analgesic (acetaminophen, ibuprofen), apply heat on your abdomen and drink plenty of fluids to help relieve pain associated with the infection. Finally, you should avoid spicy foods and caffeine (in coffee, tea and colas) during the acute phase of the infection, as these foods can irritate the bladder. If you need more information about urinary tract infections, do not hesitate to ask your pharmacist.