UTIs: Prevention

About one out of every five women who gets a urinary tract infection (UTI) will develop another one at some point in their lives, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Some women may even experience three or more UTIs a year. This may be at least partially due to an inherited susceptibility to UTIs. Repeat infections are also more likely in women with diabetes and those who have difficulty urinating due to various conditions, such as blockage in the urethra, bladder dysfunction or poor muscle control.

If you are at risk of developing repeat urinary tract infections, or simply wish to reduce your risk of getting a UTI in the first place, you may want to use these preventive measures:

  • Urinate frequently. Urinate every three to four hours and as soon as the urge occurs. Bacteria can form when urine remains in your bladder for extended periods. Holding the urge to urinate may also help bacteria to become established in your bladder.
  • Drink plenty of water. Drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. This makes it more difficult for bacteria to become established in your bladder. It also helps to flush out any bacteria that may be present.
  • Take vitamin C or drink cranberry juice. Both vitamin C and cranberry juice increase the acidity of your urine, which helps prevent growth of bacteria. In addition, cranberry juice makes your bladder wall slippery, so bacteria can't adhere to it.
  • Urinate shortly after intercourse. Sexual intercourse may allow bacteria to enter your urethra. Urinating shortly after intercourse flushes away any such bacteria.
  • Wipe from the front to the back. Always wipe from front to back after using the toilet, especially following a bowel movement. Wiping from the back to the front may allow bacteria from your colon to enter your urethra.
  • Wear cotton underwear and clothes that fit loosely. This helps ensure that the pelvic area remains dry. Excess moisture can promote the growth of bacteria.
  • Don't use harsh soaps. Don't use chemicals that can irritate your urethra, such as those found in strong soaps. Mild soaps are better for this delicate part of your body.
  • Avoid potentially irritating feminine products. The use of deodorant sprays and other products, such as powders and douches, can irritate your urethra and lead to infection.
  • Wash frequently. Wash your genitals daily and before sexual intercourse. This makes it more difficult for bacteria to become established.
  • Don't soak. Don't sit in a bath or hot tub for extended periods of time. Soaking for a long time allows bacteria from elsewhere on your body, or the body of anyone else in the tub, to enter your urethra.
  • Treat constipation. If you are constipated, take steps to correct the problem. Constipation can increase your risk of UTIs for several reasons. If you are constipated, you may produce hard-formed stools that can create small tears around the anus. Bacteria from the stools can enter the tears and result in an infection. In addition, when stool is not removed from the body in a regular fashion, bacteria builds up in your system.

    You can treat constipation by eating more fiber and taking laxatives. Bulking laxatives and stool softeners are among the safest types of laxatives available.

Soon urinary tract infections may be even easier to prevent. Scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health are developing a vaccine to help prevent UTIs. The vaccine may be a pill to increase the strength of the body's infection-fighting cells or a suppository to be inserted in the vagina.

Urinary tract infections are common and often recur after they have been treated. However, even if you are at high risk of developing one, there are several simple steps you can take to prevent the infection.

UTIs: Treatment Options

If you have a urinary tract infection (UTI), you will probably be given antibiotics, medications that eliminate the bacteria that cause UTIs. Antibiotics must be prescribed by a doctor. They are usually taken in the form of a pill, and most are safe for use during pregnancy. Antibiotic treatment for an infection of the urinary tract varies in duration from three to 10 days. The period of time you'll have to take the medications depends on the type of bacteria present and the severity of the infection.

If you are healthy and not pregnant, a UTI can usually be cured in two or three days. However, if you have a severe infection of your upper urinary tract that involves your ureters and kidneys, treatment may not be so simple. In a case like this, you may need to stay in the hospital and have antibiotics delivered directly into your bloodstream, usually through a vein in your arm. (This is called intravenous delivery.)

If you are pregnant, have kidney stones or diabetes, you will probably require seven to 10 days' treatment. If your spouse or male partner has a UTI, he will most likely require longer treatment. This is because bacteria can bury themselves deep inside his prostate tissue. These deeply buried bacteria are not as easy to kill.

You must be sure to complete the full course of treatment. Do not stop taking your antibiotics before your doctor says to, even if your symptoms subside. This helps ensure that the infection is completely eradicated. If you stop taking antibiotics too soon, some bacteria may be left in your urinary tract. These bacteria can quickly multiply and cause another bout of the same infection. In addition, if you stop taking your antibiotics before all the bacteria are killed, they can change into another form of bacteria that is more difficult to treat. This change of the bacteria's form is called mutation. It increases the risk of being infected by bacteria that withstand antibiotics, a phenomenon that's known as antibiotic resistance and is a global health-care concern. Several antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria already exist, and new ones emerge often.

A number of antibiotics can be prescribed to treat urinary tract infections. Most of these are considered safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. However, certain antibiotics may not be safe for these women. If you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant or are breastfeeding, be sure to let your doctor know before your antibiotics are prescribed. Also, certain antibiotics can interact with oral contraceptives (birth control pills) making them less effective and pregnancy more likely. If you are taking antibiotics while using birth control pills, you may want to use another form of birth control such as a condom or diaphragm with spermicide, as well. You should also be sure to discuss any other medications you are taking with your doctor.

Like all medications, antibiotics have side effects. While they are generally safe, these medications can produce reactions and even serious medical complications in some women. In addition, adverse reactions to antibiotics may be more serious in women with weakened immune systems, including women with diabetes. Possible side effects of antibiotics include allergic reactions, fever, nausea and bloating.

Vaginal yeast infections are another common side effect of antibiotic use in women. Antibiotics kill bacteria, including bacteria that control the amount of other normal body organisms, such as yeast. So the reduction in bacteria can result in an overgrowth of yeast. Antibiotic-induced vaginal yeast infections may be avoided by eating live-culture yogurt every day while taking antibiotics. Live-culture yogurt is available at any grocery store.

Beyond antibiotics

In addition to taking the prescribed medication, you may be advised to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily to help you urinate more frequently and flush any remaining bacteria from your urinary tract. Your doctor may also tell you to drink cranberry juice, which increases the acidity of your urine, making it more difficult for bacteria to grow in it. It also makes the wall of your bladder more slippery. Because it's more difficult for bacteria to adhere to a slippery bladder wall, you can flush them more easily from your body.

You may also be instructed to refrain from consuming foods and beverages that may irritate your urinary tract, such as alcohol and caffeine. If your urinary tract infection is causing pain, your pain may be relieved temporarily by using a heating pad.

Most healthy women do not experience recurrent infections. However, approximately one out of every five women who gets a urinary tract infection will develop another one at some point in their lives, according to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Some women experience three or more UTIs a year. This may be partially due to an inherited susceptibility to urinary tract infections. Repeat infections are more likely in women with diabetes and those who have difficulty urinating. If your spouse or partner develops a urinary tract infection, he also has a greater risk of getting another infection in the future.

If you get urinary tract infections frequently, your doctor may recommend self-treatment. For instance, if you tend to develop a UTI after sexual activity, you may be instructed to take a single dose of antibiotics following intercourse. Additionally, women with recurrent UTIs can now monitor their urine with an at-home urine culture and special dipsticks that detect the presence of bacteria before the symptoms of infection are noticed. Prevention methods, such as urinating frequently and using proper toilet hygiene, are also more important for these women.

While urinary tract infections can be very annoying, they are common and easy to treat. In most cases, antibiotics can eradicate all symptoms within just a few days. If the antibiotics are taken properly and for the full prescribed length of time, most women can be infection free very quickly and stay that way for a long time.

Last updated 24 March 2012

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