Urinary tract infections (cystitis)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply in the bladder. The most common symptoms include a burning feeling when urinating, an urgent and frequent need to urinate, discomfort in the lower abdomen, and blood in the urine.

In some cases, the infection can travel to the kidneys, causing fever, low back pain, and nausea or vomiting, in addition to the above symptoms. This type of UTI, which can be more serious, requires prompt medical attention.

Causes and triggers

UTIs are common, especially in women. No bacteria are present in the bladder of healthy individuals. A UTI occurs when bacteria travel up to the bladder through the urethra, which is the tube that drains urine from the bladder out of the body. Factors that increase the risk of developing a UTI, include:

  • Having sex frequently or with a new partner
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Advanced age
  • Having had a bladder infection in the last 12 months
  • For men, not being circumcised, having prostatic hypertrophy or insertive anal sex

Treatment

If you have symptoms of a UTI, it is important to see a health professional to make sure that the symptoms are not caused by another medical condition. Sometimes, the doctor can make a diagnosis based on the symptoms alone, but in some instances, a urine test may also be necessary.

Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, and treatment typically lasts between one and seven days. Symptoms should start to resolve within one day, but it is very important to take the full course of antibiotics to completely eliminate the infection. The doctor may also prescribe a pain reliever or recommend an over-the-counter analgesic (e.g., Advil or Tylenol), as needed.

Some women tend to have recurrent UTIs. If you fall into this category, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic aimed at preventing these recurrences. Here are measures you can take at home to help prevent UTIs:

  • If you use spermicide as a contraceptive, especially with a diaphragm, it may be wise to use an alternate method of birth control.
  • Increasing your fluid intake can help prevent infections by promoting urination. Emptying the bladder completely when urinating is also advised.
  • You may opt to use over-the-counter cranberry-based products (juice, tablets or supplements), but their efficacy has not been proven.
  • While urinating after intercourse may help flush out bacteria from the ureter, there is no proof that this measure is effective, but it is also not harmful.
  • After going to the toilet, wiping from front to back is advised to limit bacteria in the urethral area.
  • Postmenopausal women who develop recurrent bladder infections may benefit from vaginal estrogen. It is available in various forms (vaginal ring, cream, etc.).

Contact your doctor immediately if:

  • You experience fever, nausea, vomiting, or flank pain (side of the lower back).
  • You are diabetic, have kidney problems or a weakened immune system.
  • You are over the age of 65 years.
  • You are pregnant.
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