If you have already had a urinary tract infection, you know firsthand how unpleasant and even painful it can be. However, being able to recognize its signs and symptoms will enable you to remedy the situation quickly.
What is a urinary tract infection?
The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. All of these anatomical structures can become the site of infection, especially the bladder and urethra. The ureters are the ducts that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder, a reservoir in which urine accumulates. The urethra, on the other hand, is the canal through which urine from the bladder is emptied.
Urinary tract infections are generally mild and easy to treat. However, more serious forms are possible. This is the case, for instance, when an infection affects the kidneys. This type of infection is called a pyelonephritis and sometimes requires hospitalization.
What are the signs and symptoms of a urinary tract infection?
Some typical signs and symptoms of a urinary tract infection include:
- a burning sensation during urination
- a need to urinate often
- an urgent need to urinate without being able to do so
- involuntary urine loss
- pressure in the lower abdomen
- cloudy, dark or strong-smelling urine
The presence of nausea, fever, lower back pain, and chills suggests a more serious infection that requires prompt medical attention.
Are there any risk factors?
Women are at greater risk than men of urinary tract infections. This is because women’s urethra is shorter than men’s, making it easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder. Additionally, because the anus is close to the urethra, anal and rectal bacteria can easily reach the urethra and cause infection. Therefore, wiping from back to front after a bowel movement increases the risk of urinary tract infections. The same is true when a woman wipes herself after intercourse.
Some women are also at greater risk than others of developing a urinary tract infection, for instance:
- pregnant women
- menopausal women
- elderly women
- women with a urinary tract malformation
- diabetic women
- women with illness that weakens the immune system
- women who have had a catheter inserted in the urethra
- women who use a diaphragm
Pregnant women are more likely to develop urinary tract infections because of the pressure exerted by the baby on the urinary tract and of the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy. They are also more likely to have serious infections. Urinary tract infections in pregnant women must be treated quickly to avoid serious complications for both the mother and her unborn child.
What are the available treatments?
Most urinary tract infections are usually treated with antibiotics. The choice of antibiotic treatment depends on the type of infection and personal characteristics (e.g., allergies, health problems, pregnancy, etc.).
Improvement of signs and symptoms of infection are generally noted 24 to 48 hours after the start of antibiotic treatment. However, it is important to take all the doses of the prescribed antibiotic to avoid the development of resistant bacteria. Severe urinary tract infections may require taking antibiotics for a long period of time and sometimes, hospitalization.
To help eliminate bacteria, drink plenty of fluids. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever will help if you feel pain. Pain in the lower abdomen can also be relieved by applying warm compresses to the affected area. Remember that it is always recommended to speak to a pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medication to ensure that it is suitable for you.
Can urinary tract infections be prevented?
Various measures can be taken to prevent urinary tract infections. Here are a few that have been proven effective:
- Drink plenty of water, this helps eliminate bacteria.
- Urinate when you feel the need to, do not hold it in.
- Wipe from front to back after a bowel movement.
- Urinate after intercourse, as this helps eliminate bacteria.
- Avoid using scented feminine hygiene products, as they can irritate the urethra.
For women who suffer from urinary tract infections regularly, small doses of antibiotics can be taken as a preventive measure. If you have had more than three urinary tract infections this year, discuss this with your doctor.
How can pharmacists help?
If you think you may have a urinary tract infection, don't hesitate to consult your pharmacist. In many cases, they can prescribe an antibiotic and if not, they can advise and direct you to the right resources. They will provide many tips on how to put this episode behind you and optimize your drug treatment.