Suppose you’re a woman, the chances that you’ve crossed your legs mid-conversation to hide intense itching in the groin area, endured a burning sensation while peeing or experienced searing abdominal pain are about 60 per cent statistically due to Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs). UTI is the second most common human bacterial infection in the world. Yet, despite its prevalence, we rarely discuss this women’s health openly.
Why? Due to the sense of shame associated with it. Often, women prefer to put up with the discomfort and pain instead of speaking up and seeking treatment. They feel embarrassed to accept that they’re suffering from an infection whose root cause is poor genital hygiene.
While there is a smidgen of truth to that belief, the fact is, an array of reasons causes UTIs.
What are UTIs, and how do we get them?
A UTI is an infection of the urinary system caused by bacteria that enter the bladder through the urinary tract. While bacteria are the most common trigger, there are variants of UTIs caused by fungi and viruses. A UTI can infect any part of your urinary system — from kidneys and ureters to bladder and urethra.
Contrary to popular belief, men contract UTIs too. However, women are more likely to get UTIs because of the female anatomy’s design – bacteria can quickly spread from the vagina and rectum to the urethra, as they’re all located close to each other. This is the primary reason healthcare providers, doctors, and even your mum, keep repeating ‘always wipe from front to back’ after using the loo. Ninety per cent of UTIs are said to be caused by the bacteria called Escherichia coli (E. coli), which is found in abundance in our gut and find their way down to the rectum when you pass stool.
Wiping in the wrong direction isn’t the only cause of UTIs, though. Suppose you use sanitary napkins and tampons for long hours without changing them at regular intervals? In that case, the accumulated blood can also lead to the growth of bacteria and result in UTIs. Bacteria love damp environments.
Sometimes, UTIs are caused by kidney stones, diabetes, pregnancy, birth control such as diaphragms and spermicide, or even a weakened immune system. If your luck of the draw is abysmal, then you could also be genetically predisposed to contracting UTIs.
Symptoms to watch out for
Not one symptom fits all UTIs. Some are tricky to identify. Itching, burning, and pain are the most known symptoms, but you could go around for days experiencing none of these but still have a UTI.
One of the most common symptoms is the frequent need to pee without releasing much urine.
Other symptoms include smelly urine, constant fatigue, fever and chills, urine that’s cloudy or bloody in colour, and lower back pain.
What should you do?
Once one, or a few, of these symptoms, pop up on your radar, visit your gynecologist without delay, as untreated UTIs can lead to kidney infection. Making a pit stop at the nearest supermarket for a bottle of cranberry juice also counts as a delay.
While cranberry juice is leaps more delicious as a treatment option, it has inconclusive results, experts warn. Antibiotics are your best port of call to eliminate the infection for good.
Don’t self-treat or opt for over-the-counter medications either because UTIs come in two variants: cystitis and urethritis. Cystitis is an infection of the bladder, and urethritis is an infection of the urethra. Your doctor best knows what medications can target your specific condition.
Myth or fact?
Is cranberry juice a panacea for UTIs? There’s a grain of truth there, according to some experts. Other common beliefs in nodding distance of fact include the age-old advice to urinate after sex.
Much like wiping your genital area from back to front, sex too can transfer bacteria from other parts of your pelvic region to the urethra. Urinating after sex ensures any errant bacteria that’s wound up in your urethra is expelled and isn’t trapped there to cause further damage.
This doesn’t mean UTIs are the same as sexually transmitted infections. You cannot pass on your UTI to another person. That said, sex can worsen or lead to a UTI.
A UTI is also not a yeast infection, although symptoms sometimes overlap. Yeast infections are fungal and caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida in the vagina. They are often accompanied by a smelly curd-like discharge and swelling of the vulva – that’s how you differentiate it from a UTI.
Staying hydrated is another preventative tip passed down generations of women. This advice now has the stamp of medical approval thanks to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
It’s logic: Drinking water makes you frequently urinate, which helps flush out infection-causing bacteria from your bladder before they can set up shop in your body and make you sick.
The more you increase your fluid intake, the better it is for your urinary system. Does gulping down tasteless water constantly sound unpalatable? There’s good news – medical research suggests that acidic fluids do a better job of flushing out bacteria, which means you’re welcome to reach for a bottle of cranberry juice or any other juice to hydrate yourself and prevent UTIs!