Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are extremely common
If you’ve ever experienced the painful itching, burning sting of a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), you’re not alone. In fact, one American health authority states that UTIs are the third most common medical complaint amongst adult women (after colds and flu).
Here in New Zealand, an estimated 25% of women and 5% of men will experience at least one UTI at some point in their lives. And of the 25% of women who experience a UTI, up to one in five will go on to have recurring infections.
Although UTIs can become serious if they’re left unchecked, they’re generally easy to treat. So how do you recognise one when it occurs, and what should you do?
The cause behind most UTIs: bacteria that took a wrong turn
The majority of UTI cases are caused by one bacterial strain: Escherichia coli (E.coli). These bacteria normally live harmlessly in your lower intestine, where they play an active role in the digestive process.
The problems start when they leave your intestinal tract and enter your bladder through your urethra instead. When this happens, they colonise your bladder wall, irritating and inflaming it, and causing a UTI – with the resulting itchy, burning symptoms.
Who’s most at risk of developing a UTI
Although UTIs are far more common in women, men do sometimes develop them as well. Women are more at risk for two reasons. Firstly, their urinary tract is shorter – making it easier for bacteria to travel up their urethra and find a place to colonise. Secondly, their urethral and anal openings are much closer together than in men – again, making it easier for E. coli to “jump ship”.
Other factors that can be associated with higher UTI risk include:
- Age: elderly people may not empty their bladder fully when they urinate. This can lead to a buildup of stale urine in the bladder, which allows bacteria to flourish.
- Pregnancy: a growing baby can put pressure on the mother’s bladder, making it more difficult to fully empty.
- Prostate problems: an enlarged prostate can cause similar pressure and irritation to the bladder and urethra.
- Menopause: the lining of the bladder and genital region tends to thin after menopause, making it easier for bacteria to break through.
- Sexual activity: although UTIs are not sexually transmitted, sexual activity can trigger them, and some forms of contraception can further increase the risk.
- Low immunity: in many cases, even if bacteria make it to the bladder, the immune system stops them from colonising it. People with poor immunity, however, may have more difficulty fighting off an infection.
How to tell if you have a UTI
Some of the common symptoms of UTIs include:
- Frequent or urgent need to urinate
- The characteristic burning, stinging sensation when you urinate
- Inability to completely empty your bladder during urination
- Lower back / abdominal discomfort
- Cloudy and / or foul-smelling urine
Note that if your symptoms persist for longer than 48 hours, or you notice blood in your urine, you need to speak to your doctor immediately. He or she will usually prescribe you a simple course of antibiotics to clear up the infection and stop it spreading to your kidneys. Kidney infections can have serious health repercussions, so it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible.
How can Cranberry help to fight off UTIs?
Cranberries are one of the best known natural remedies to help prevent UTIs.
Research shows that cranberries can actually reduce the number of UTI-causing bacteria that latch on to your bladder walls by up to 75%. The berries are also very rich in powerful antioxidant compounds, including proanthocyanidins, quercetin and flavonols. These compounds all help to boost your immunity and support your urinary tract health.
Note that if your doctor prescribes antibiotics for a UTI, you can keep taking cranberry as well for extra urinary tract support.
What other steps can you take to protect yourself from UTIs?
To help lower your risk of developing a UTI, naturopaths recommend that you also:
- Drink plenty of water daily to help flush out harmful bacteria
- Reduce your sugar intake
- Urinate when you feel the need to, especially after sex. Don’t hold on!
- Always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement or urination to avoid spreading bacteria
- Avoid using diaphragms and spermicides as contraception
By Ingrid Pilz, ND, Dip Med Herb
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