So first off, what is a urinary tract infection? Your urinary tract is as follows. You have kidneys. Your kidneys are one of your body’s filters (the other being your liver). The kidneys get rid of drugs, waste products, and really anything that shouldn’t be in your blood. Your kidney’s take out a bunch of fluid from your blood, they filter out the good stuff and put it back in your blood and leave all the bad stuff, which will eventually become urine. The bad filtrate travels from your kidneys down your ureters, and into your bladder. Your bladder stores urine until it reaches a certain amount, at which point you have a feeling of needing to urinate. Your bladder then contracts and forces the urine into your urethra, at which point it exits your body. It is important to note that this is a sterile system. There are no bacteria in any part of your urinary tract. Oftentimes the first little bit of the urethra will have some bacteria growing in it. But your body tries to keep them out by physically expelling them with urine, as well as creating a harsh environment with alkaline urine.
A urinary tract infection is when your body is unable to keep your urinary tract sterile. Bacteria travel up the urethra into the bladder where they attach onto the walls of your bladder and start growing. This is a urinary tract infection. The most common bacteria is E. coli, which comes from your gastrointestinal tract (they come from your bum). So if you have sex, it can increase the likelihood of E. coli getting to your urethra because there are physical motions pushing them into you. This sounds a bit gross, but understand bacteria travel a bit, and getting a bacteria from your colon can happen even with proper hygiene. People who take care of themselves still get UTIs.
So what are the symptoms of a UTI? The typical feelings of a UTI are pain or burning when you urinate, frequent urination, some pain or pressure in the lower abdomen, and sometimes changes to your urine (a change in appearance). If any of these happen to you, then you might have a UTI.
We previously discussed how your bladder is connected to your kidneys. Because of this, a bladder infection can spread from the bladder even further and go towards your kidneys. This is a very serious infection and can be life-threatening. This is one of the reasons treating a UTI is so important. Signs of a kidney infection are all the same as a bladder infection but also includes flank pain (so on your back where your kidneys are), a high fever (chills can happen with your fever), vomiting and nausea, and just an overall feeling of fatigue and un-wellness (but that is not always present).
So now that you understand what a urinary tract infection is, we will discuss how to treat one, and how to prevent one from occurring.
It is common to hear people say that you can treat a urinary tract infection with cranberry juice and this makes me cringe. You absolutely cannot treat a UTI with cranberry juice. What cranberry juice does is it prevents the E. coli from attaching to your bladder. E. coli basically have little tentacles that let them grip on and prevent them from being removed by your body. If the E. coli are already there and already attached, then cranberry juice is not going to do much good. And as I just explained, UTIs can be very serious if they spread to the kidneys. So please, please, please, if you hear someone say you can treat a UTI with cranberry juice, tell them they cannot. There is no medical literature that shows this to be the case. It is true that some people will get over a UTI without anything. Your body has an immune system and can kill the infection sometimes, but understand that had NOTHING to do with the cranberry juice.
What you need to get rid of the infection is to use an antibiotic. Which one is used is going to depend on where you live and the resistance rates of E. coli there (after an antibiotic is used in the general population, bacteria can become immune to them). The best drug (as long as resistance is not an issue) is Trimethoprim and Sulfamethoxazole in combination (the brand name being Septra). Another good choice is Nitrofurantoin (brand name MacroBid), but this drug only works if you have good kidney function and can cause your urine to stain clothes. Other drugs include Amoxicillin and Clavulin or Ciprofloxacin. Ciprofloxacin or Moxifloxacin are drugs that are used to treat pneumonia and serious infections, so if a doctor prescribes it tell him he should save it for more serious infections (we want to prevent resistance) and to give you Septra or Macrobid (unless local resistance rates say this is a bad idea). This way if you get pneumonia the Moxifloxacin will work to cure your pneumonia and the bacteria will be less likely to be resistant. Those are the most common drugs used to treat a UTI and normally they work really well. Most UTIs will start to feel better in one day and be all cleared up in 3 days.
Now that we have talked about how to treat a UTI, how can you prevent one? There are a couple things you can do.
Drinking water can be useful. Urinating helps keep your urinary tract cleared of bacteria, so staying hydrated is good. Cranberry juice will help some too. As I stated above, it prevents the E. coli from latching on.
Some people find UTIs always occur after sexual intercourse. If this is the case, you can get prophylactic antibiotics. You can take a Septra after you have had sex. This can work great for some people and really reduce the frequency of UTIs. Urinating after sexual intercourse is also a good idea. This doesn’t need to be immediate. If you urinate 30 minutes to an hour after sex, then you are fine.
I want to say that all of this information is for uncomplicated patients. If you are a male, this advice does not apply to you. Your urethra is longer and UTIs are very uncommon. If you have a UTI, it could be something more serious. This information also does not apply to pregnant women, people with diabetes, or those above the age of 50. This advice however is good for most females below 50. Like all medical advice, it needs to be personalized and if you have additional questions or concerns you should talk to your doctor, because I do not know you personally and there might be a reason this advice does not apply to you.
Hopefully you now know more about UTIs and recognize the signs and symptoms, realize the best treatment is to see a doctor and get a prescription for an antibiotic, and know some ways to prevent UTIs from occurring.
If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments.