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February 16, 2014

Urinary tract infections, or “UTIs,” are infections that afflict the urinary tract. The urinary tract refers to the body’s plumbing system, or “pee” outlet. Blood is filtered in the kidney to produce urine, which is then channeled through two conduits (ureters) to a storage reservoir (bladder). The muscular bladder finally eliminates urine by pushing it through an outflow pipe (urethra).

Bacteria can infiltrate the urethra and travel up into the bladder, resulting in a bladder infection (cystitis). Bacteria that ascend the ureters lead to kidney infections (pyelonephritis). Bladder and kidney infections are more common in women.

Symptoms of a bladder infection include:Illu_urinary_system

  • Pain or burning when urinating

  • A frequent need to urinate

  • An urgent need to urinate

  • Blood in the urine

  • Discomfort in the lower abdomen

In addition to these symptoms, kidney infections may also cause: fever (temperature higher than 100.4º F or 38º C), flank pain, and nausea or vomiting.

If you experience the above symptoms, check with a doctor to make sure that you are really having a bladder infection, as symptoms of bladder infection can be mimicked by other conditions.

UTIs are easily diagnosed when typical symptoms are present. A suspected UTI is confirmed by a simple urine test that checks for the presence of white blood cells. White blood cells in a urine sample suggest infection. Sometimes, urine is also sent away for culture. This means that a sample of urine is used to grow bacteria in a laboratory.

Treatment for UTI requires a course of antibiotic for 3 to 7 days. The most commonly prescribed pills are trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim®), nitrofurantoin (Macrobid®), and ciprofloxacin.

To treat pain while waiting for the antibiotic to take effect, I suggest using over-the-counter Cystoplus® (sodium citrate) for two days.

Even though symptoms begin to improve within a day or two of starting antibiotics, it is important for patients to complete the full course of treatment or the infection may recur.

Those who suffer from repeated UTIs (3 or more times per year) often require further testing to rule out urinary tract abnormalities and kidney stones. Once these factors are ruled out, there are several ways to prevent UTIs. The following suggestions are directed at women:

  • Flush the pipes – Drink more fluid and urinate right after sex.

  • Use antibiotics following intercourse – In women who develop UTIs after sex, taking a single low dose antibiotic within 2 hours of intercourse can help to prevent bladder infections.

  • Use continuous antibiotics – Take a low dose antibiotic daily for several months.

  • Use vaginal estrogen if you are postmenopausal.

  • The effectiveness of cranberry-containing products remains controversial, but cranberry juice appears to be more effective than cranberry capsules or tablets. Recommended doses are 200 to 500mg daily for capsules or 30 to 300mL daily  for juice (juice cocktail contains 26-33% juice).

Watch an animation of the urinary tract being invaded by a UTI over here:

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