Sofie Wise

Maria Shikary

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About Author — Dr. Shikary is a graduate of the Ohio State University School of Medicine, and trained in pediatrics at UCSF in San Francisco. She specializes in holistic/integrative medicine and nutrition.

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What to Do If You Have a Urinary Tract Infection

Burning, pressure, frequent urination. These are common symptoms in women with urinary tract infections, also called bladder infections. Some women don’t have any symptoms all except a feeling that something just isn’t right. However, when the urethra and bladder get angry, they usually let you know it.

Causes & Risk Factors for UTIs

In adult women, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are quite common, with women having about one infection every two years. Risk factors for getting a UTI include recent sexual intercourse, spermicide use, and having had a previous UTI.

Of course this brings up the question of how one gets a UTI: usually bladder infections arise from fecal contamination of the urethra, which occurs commonly when having sex. As a result, it is always important that women urinate immediately after having sex – in order to clear the urethra of any bacteria that may have been introduced.

Most UTIs are caused by bacteria like E.Coli, which actually normally lives in your digestive system but can cause problems when it gets into places it shouldn’t, like your urethra and bladder.

In order to prevent UTI, it is important that women wipe front to back after using the restroom. Because a woman’s urethra is located extremely close to the anus, bacteria from the large intestine can easily transfer over from the anus into the urethra.

Some women are more prone to UTIs because they have shorter urethras. Shorter urethras allow bacteria to access the bladder more quickly – leading to recurrent or chronic UTIs.

Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms

Ninety percent of the time when a healthy adult woman experiences painful urination and feelings of frequent urination, it is a UTI (assuming they aren’t experiencing any vaginal discharge). In addition, many women who have bladder infections may notice that their urine looks cloudy or dark. Some may even see blood in their urine.

While burning and a frequent or intense urge to urinate are the most common symptoms associated with UTIs, sometimes more painful or uncomfortable symptoms arise.

These rare symptoms include:

  • Pressure or pain in your back or lower abdomen
  • Feeling tired or shaky
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Chills

If you have a high fever (more than 100.3 F), back or flank pain, or nausea and vomiting it may indicate something more serious and you should seek urgent medical attention.

Testing for Bladder Infections

If you think that you may have a urinary tract infection, head to your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will ask you to provide a urine sample, which will then be examined and tested for bacteria that cause UTIs.

If you are unsure if your symptoms are a UTI, or just want to know for sure, many pharmacies sell over-the-counter urine tests that can help your doctor determine if you have a UTI. This way you can avoid unnecessary antibiotics if you don’t have a UTI and if you do, you don’t need to deal with the hassle of going to a commercial lab.

Treatment for Urinary Tract Infections

Fortunately, most cases of UTIs can be cured with a short course of antibiotic therapy. Doctors can often diagnose UTIs based on symptoms alone, without the need for an examination or taking a blood or urine sample. Antibiotics such as nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin), trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), or ciprofloxacin (Cipro) are the therapies commonly recommended by medical experts.

Even though symptoms can go away in as few as a few hours after starting antibiotics, some people have so much pain during UTIs they want something to relieve the pain in addition to killing the infection. A medication called phenazopyridine (Pyridium, Baridium) can be taken as much as three times daily to dull the pain.

Complications Associated with Bladder Infections

If you get chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs that occur more than a few times a year), have symptoms again within 2 weeks of treatment, or don’t respond to treatment within 48 hours, you should contact your doctor again for more testing as you may have a more serious health problem, such as a kidney infection.

If left untreated for a long period of time, UTIs can move past the bladder and urethra (the lower urinary system) into the upper urinary system, which includes the kidneys and ureters. When this occurs, a common bladder infection can turn into a more serious kidney disease called pyelonephritis.

Pyelonephritis has the potential to spread to the blood and cause a more severe illness, which is why it is so important that you are treated for kidney infection right away. If diagnosed with a kidney infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics and you should start feeling better in about a week.

The bottom line on UTIs is that they are common, easy to diagnose, and respond well to physician recommended antibiotics. Only rarely will you need in-depth testing and examination and you should be back to your normal self in no time.

If you experience any symptoms of a UTI or bladder infection, call or book online with PlushCare to set up a phone appointment with a top U.S. doctor today.

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