Preventing urinary tract infections

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Many women regard urinary tract infection as an annoying, but not serious, female problem.

But Dr. Candice Anderson, a family practice physician with Methodist Hospitals, said while urinary tract infections are far more prevalent among women, men can have them, too. And while the infection usually is cured quickly, it can lead to kidney damage, which can be serious.

Symptoms

Anderson explained that the urinary tract consists of the kidneys, bladder, urethra and ureters. Infection usually occurs when bacteria from the rectal area works its way to the urethra and up into the bladder.

“UTIs are more common in women because they have a very short passageway between the urethra and the rectum, where it’s not as short in men,” Anderson said.

Common symptoms of a UTI include frequent and painful urination, a cloudy urine, strong urine odor, lower abdominal pain or pressure and fever.

Causes

Anderson said UTIs can be caused by a change in the normal, protective bacteria in the urinary tract. This can happen when someone has been taking certain antibiotics for a long period of time, using spermicides or douching, she said.

Called “the honeymoon infliction” by some, UTIs can occur after intercourse. They also are more prevalent among elderly women, who’ve gone years without estrogen, making the urinary tract area very thin, allowing bacteria to work their way through, Anderson said.

Some women have recurring UTIs. Anderson said causes include: not finishing a prescribed treatment, sensitivity to the antibiotic originally prescribed, menopause or something wrong with the patient’s anatomy.

Treatments

Most of these infections can be treated in three days using one of several antibiotics including Ciprofloxacin, Levofloxacin, Macrobid and Bactrim, Anderson said. She said it is important to visit the doctor in person to ensure you get the right antibiotic for you and to take all the prescribed pills. Failure to do either could cause the infection to return.

Anderson said the first treatment is sometimes started with a medication called Pyridium, which numbs the area and eases the burning sensation until the antibiotics kick in. She warns, however, that Pyridium will stain urine orange.

Individuals who get a UTI more than three times a year may need to have further work done. It could show the individual has reflux, which can cause permanent scarring of the kidneys, and needs to be on antibiotics daily.

Postmenopausal women can be treated with a topical estrogen.

If an individual is taking antibiotics for the infection and still experiences burning with urination, abdominal and back pain, fever, chills and nausea, it could be a sign that the infection has spread to the kidneys.

“This is an emergency and the patient needs to seek medical help immediately,” Anderson said.

Prevention

Use these tips to prevent UTIs:

Don’t hold your urine for periods of time; it can cause bacteria to build up.

Drink six to eight glasses of water daily.

When using the bathroom, wipe from front to back.

Avoid douching.

Post-menopausal women can use a topical estrogen.

More information about Methodist Hospitals is at www.methodisthospitals.org.