A urinary tract infection (UTI) is one of the most common infections that women experience, with roughly one out of two women affected at least once in her life. That means if you’re a woman, there’s a fifty percent chance you’ve either had a UTI or will be affected by one in your lifetime.
UTIs, while unpleasant, are usually easy to treat. However, for women who experience chronic UTIs, these infections either don’t respond to treatment or continue to occur.
What causes UTIs, and what are the symptoms?
UTIs are caused by bacteria that enter the urinary tract via the urethra and multiply in the bladder. This can lead to either a bladder infection or a urethral infection (urethritis), the latter of which is usually the result of bacteria like E.coli, but can also be caused by certain STIs like herpes, gonorrhoea and chlamydia.
So how does bacteria get into the urethra? Usually when tiny, microscopic particles of faeces get into the urinary tract, often during sex (i.e when you switch between anal and vaginal sex without cleaning in between), or if you wipe from back to front when you go to the toilet, or as a result of toilet water backsplash.
Symptoms of UTIs include:
- Frequent urination
- Dark, bloody or foamy urine
- Burning while urinating
- Pain in your kidneys (felt in your lower back)
- Pain or a burning sensation in your bladder
UTIs can also spread to the kidneys if left untreated. In this case, you may also experience:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- A high temperature
- Mental disorientation
UITs, while common, may affect a woman once or twice in her lifetime. However, for some women, the problem becomes chronic.
Who is at risk of chronic UTIs?
There are lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of experiencing chronic UTIs, such as:
- Using a diaphragm during sex
- Using douches (Read more: What is douching and why is it bad for you?)
- Using spermicides
- Using certain oral antibiotics
- Having diabetes
- Having blockages or obstructions in your urinary tract, like kidney stones
- Having trouble properly emptying your bladder
How are chronic UTIs treated?
Recurrent urinary tract infections may be treated with one or a combination of the following:
- Natural remedies like drinking plenty of water or cranberry juice
- Avoiding factors that can cause UTIs
- Treating any problems that go hand-in-hand with, or cause, the chronic infections, through medication, surgery or other methods
Where to get diagnosis and treatment for UTIs
If you suspect you may have a UTI, visit your doctor, clinic or healthcare provider as soon as you can. Left untreated, a UTI can spread to your kidneys and cause a much more serious infection.
Checking for a UTI is easy: your healthcare provider will test a sample of your urine, and a diagnosis will be made in a few minutes.