What Causes Urinary Tract Infections?
I'm like you—I Google everything before bringing it up in a panic with my doctor. Here's the thing—I'm not actually a doctor, and this article isn't meant to be a diagnosis or used as medical advice. Use this article to jot down ideas and talking points to discuss with your healthcare provider.
The first time I got a UTI, I rushed to the walk-in with the impression that they were going to tell me I was going to die. Sitting on edge of the exam table and sucking down a juice box, the doctor came in to gently break the news that I had a urinary tract infection.
I wish I could tell you that was my first and last but ha, nope. No. I have a weird shaped urinary tract or something because I dealt with this problem a few more times in the following year. Sucky for me, but good for you, because I learned a thing or two from my experiences talking with doctors, nurses, and of course, Dr. Google.
What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection is just that—an infection of the urinary tract. It's caused by germs entering the urinary tract—usually through sexual intercourse or by being exposed to water with the germs in it, like the bathtub. The germs that cause urinary tract infections often come from the small intestine.
Basically, they're the germs in your poop.
Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection
Symptoms of UTI's vary from person to person but you may have a urinary tract infection if you're experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:
- Pelvic pain (women) or rectal pain (men)
- A strong urge to urinate often, but when you do, not much comes out.
- Pain when urinating (this can range from anything from a burning sensation to feeling like you're friggin' peeing glass!)
- Cloudy or red-tinged (the presence of blood--it sucks, but it's common with a UTI) urine.
- Strong or foul-smelling urine.
In some cases, a UTI can be without symptoms.
You may also experience flu-like symptoms that indicate a more serious infection (such as a bladder or kidney infection) including:
- Shaking and chills
- Discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Pain in your lower back and sides
Make sure to talk to your doctor if you're experiencing any of these symptoms when you go in to give a urine sample. Depending on the situation, most cases of kidney and bladder infections are still treated at home with antibiotics, but your doctor may instruct you to get more rest and be less active (including staying home from work or school) until your treatment is over to prevent complications.
What Does a UTI Feel Like?
A urinary tract infection usually causes the sufferer to feel pain and discomfort while urinating. It's kinda like peeing out a cactus, or glass shards.
Yeah, not great.
This pain is usually accompanied by the urge to pee constantly and discomfort in the lower abdomen or rectum.
Will You Die From a UTI?
Nope. But it is important to get a UTI treated early on because infections in the urinary tract can travel to your kidneys, causing a kidney infection which is not great and has the possibility to become dangerous. (I mean, your kidneys are pretty important, so...)
The Thing About Cranberry Juice
Growing up, my grandparents always kept cranberry juice around. Thinking it was just some sadistic pleasure for them, I opted always for apple juice. In my adult years, I came to realize that the presence of cranberry juice served much of the same function as those individually wrapped prunes they had laying around—to prevent the not-fun-realities of getting older.
The thing about cranberry juice, though, is that unless it's pure cranberry juice with no sugar added, it won't do much to prevent a urinary tract infection. In fact, the sugar in the juice can hinder the prevention of UTI's because sugar exacerbates infections.
Instead, try taking cranberry capsules or finding pure cranberry juice online or at your local health food store.
What if You're Pregnant and Have a UTI?
Urinary tract infections are super common in pregnant women. Your doctor will likely culture your urine (insist that they do!) as pregnancy can cause your infection to be resistant to certain antibiotics. Though it's never great to have an active infection while pregnant, in most cases, with proper treatment, the baby is not affected.
How Will My Doctor Test for a UTI?
Drink up! Your doctor will do a simple urine test to test for a urinary tract infection. She may also send a urine sample to the lab to be cultured and find out exactly which bacteria is causing your specific infection. This will aid in choosing the proper antibiotic treatment.
Can I Test at Home for a UTI?
You can, actually! There are a couple of products that can be found over on Amazon, at Target, Walmart, etc. that test for urinary tract infections right from the comfort of your own bathroom. If you're a frequent flyer at the doctor's office this can be a helpful way to avoid the wait and know for sure before making an appointment.
Can You Treat a UTI at Home?
After getting a prescription from your doctor yes, you can. But if you have a urinary tract infection, you'll need to at least talk to your doctor first and find out what you can do to keep it from spreading to your bladder and then worse, your kidneys.
What to Avoid When You're Dealing With a UTI
During the treatment of a urinary tract infection, it's important to avoid the following:
- Sugar. Sugar can slow down the healing of a UTI.
- Intercourse. I mean, think about it. That's where all of the healing is trying to take place! Plus, infected females can infect male partners if protection is not used.
- Baths. Baths are a big no-no as tempting as they may be, especially if you're experiencing a backache. The point is to keep bacteria out of the urinary tract.
- Strenuous Exercise. Anytime you are fighting an infection, it's important to get extra rest and be kind to your body so it can be kind to you.
A Warning About Bactrim
Bactrim (or sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim) is a heavy duty antibiotic that can wipe out a UTI pretty quickly. It also contains sulfa, which many people are highly allergic to. Unless you've successfully used antibiotics containing sulfa before, ask your doctor about an alternative like Macrobid or amoxicillin—both of which also carry unpleasant side effects but have a lower percentage of allergic reactions—before settling on Bactrim.
How do Doctor's Treat a UTI?
Doctors almost always treat a urinary tract infection with an antibiotic like amoxicillin, macrobid, or bactrim, to name a few. The reason to treat a UTI with an antibiotic, instead of naturally at home is that urinary tract infections can spread to the kidneys--a potentially (but not usually!!) fatal problem.
Once you've finished the course of antibiotics, your doctor will want you to come back in to give another urine sample to make that the infection has completely cleared.
Treating UTI's at Home
UTI's are often treated with an antibiotic. In addition, when you have a urinary tract infection, it's important to drink plenty of water to flush the infection out and to use the bathroom often, making sure that you are completely emptying your bladder. For women, this means bending forward a bit on the potty to ensure you've properly pushed all of the urine out of your bladder.
You can prevent reoccurring urinary tract infections by keeping these things in mind:
- Ladies, wipe from to back. Always. This keeps the germs that cause UTI's away from the urinary tract.
- Urinate before and after intercourse to flush away any germs that may have entered.
- Avoid baths, but when you just can't stay away, urinate afterward (in the toilet, of course...)
- Don't hold your pee!
- Consider taking a cranberry capsule regularly to maintain the health of your urinary tract.
Have You Ever Had a UTI?
Let me know your tips and tricks for spotting UTI's quickly and how you prevent them in the comments below!
Questions & Answers
My 9-year-old granddaughter has a urinary tract infection. Could lack of personal hygiene be a cause? I mean no baths for days. Please let me know as soon as possible.
That could definitely be a contributing cause and even with reminders to only wipe from front to back, sometimes kids have a hard time remembering to do that. UTIs in kids aren't uncommon, especially in girls and even if she took a bath last week, it's possible that the UTI took a few days to develop.
KidsHealth.org has some great articles on things like urinary tract infections in children and what causes them. If you haven't already, make sure to talk to her doctor about ways to prevent these infections like making sure when she uses the bathroom she's fully emptying her bladder.
Do urinary tract infections also affect your strength and your energy?
Urinary tract infections can and will affect your strength and energy! When you're fighting an infection, your body is going to give more energy to that and that's going to wear you out.
I'm not a doctor and this is anecdotal, but when I've dealt with a UTI (a few times) I'm basically exhausted and my energy is sapped dry.
If you haven't already, get into your doctor - the test is a simple urine test, no big deal. If it turns out that you have one then you'll want to give yourself as much of a break as possible while you heal.
Besides sex and taking baths, what else causes UTI infections? This is my second one in two months!
Not emptying your bladder well enough can cause a UTI and believe it or not, it's harder to fully empty your bladder than you think. Make it a habit to lean forward as you urinate and give an extra push at the end to make sure you've fully emptied your bladder. Also, drink plenty of water and try to cut down on sugary foods and drinks which can contribute to frequent infections.
Can you get UTI from going into a swimming pool; like at a YMCA water aerobics class?
Yes, you can get a UTI from a swimming pool! I looked into this a little more to make sure that I'm relaying information confirmed by experts.
According to the Urology Care Foundation (which can be found at urologyhealth.org), swimming pools can have germs present that enter your bladder and cause infection. These germs get into the pool from other people - people who haven't showered off properly before entering to pool or who are peeing in the pool. Yikes!
If you think you might have a UTI, you should visit your doctor and leave a urine sample. It's an easy test from something that can make you feel so miserable.