Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common and affect millions of women. A UTI may occur in any part of the urinary tract, from the the bladder and ureters to the kidneys. More than half of women will have atleast one UTI at some point during their life, while UTIs are rare among men.
Our experts explain UTIs, what causes them and how you can avoid the risk of a UTI.
What causes a UTI?
UTIs start when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and then the bladder. The bacteria that most commonly cause UTIs is 'Escherichia coli', also known as 'E. coli'. E. coli originates from the colon. UTIs are much more common in women than men due to women's biology and the close proximity between the anus and urethra.
There are lots of ways E. coli can be introduced to the urinary tract and increase the risk of a UTI, including:
- Sexual intercourse may introduce bacteria into the urethra, leading to a UTI.
- Some types of contraceptives increase the risk, mostly spermicides and diaphragms.
- Wiping the wrong way. Wiping back to front may spread bacteria from the colon to the urinary tract.
A few risk factors also increase the risk of developing a UTI. These include being postmenopausal, having reduced immune function and using a urinary catheter.
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The difference between a UTI and a yeast infection
A UTI is caused by bacteria (usually E. coli), while a yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of yeast (usually 'candida albicans').
The symptoms of a yeast infection include redness, itching or burning, and a thick, white discharge from the vagina.
The symptoms of a UTI include pain and burning when urinating, discomfort or pain in the pelvic area, a frequent urge to urinate, smelly urine, cloudy urine, or the presence of blood in the urine.
Treatments for a UTI
Your doctor will treat UTIs with antibiotics. You must provide a urine sample that will be sent to the lab for testing.
Pain-relieving medications may help relieve the pain and discomfort associated with a UTI. It's essential to take the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed. If you start feeling better before finishing the medication, you should still finish the course of antibiotics. This will help to prevent the infection from returning, worsening, or contributing to antibiotic resistance.
If left untreated, a vaginal UTI can spread to the kidneys, causing a more severe infection known as 'pyelonephritis'. Symptoms of a kidney infection can include generally feeling unwell, fever, chills, nausea, and back pain. A kidney infection requires immediate medical attention and may require hospitalisation.
How to prevent a UTI
There are several things you can do to help prevent UTIs. These include:
- Drink plenty of water: Staying hydrated helps flush bacteria out of your urinary tract.
- Urinate frequently: Don't hold your urine for long periods.
- Wiping from front to back: This helps prevent bacteria from the anus from spreading to the urethra.
- Clean before and after sexual intercourse: This helps reduce the risk of introducing bacteria into the urethra. You may also enjoy reading about the best and worst foods for sex drive.
- Avoid irritating feminine products: Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays, douches or powders, as they can irritate the urethra, which may increase the risk of infection.
What else can help prevent a UTI?Your dietary choices and the types of foods you eat can also help protect you against UTIs.
- Cranberry: Cranberries contain 'proanthocyanidins' which prevent E. coli from adhering to the bladder wall. This is why cranberry juice is a very popular choice of drink among women, particularly those treating or susceptible to UTIs. Be careful to choose a sugar-free cranberry juice.
- Probiotics: Probiotics can correct the balance of microflora in the colon and prevent E. coli from spreading to the urinary tissues. Learn more about how your gut and vagina are linked and discover pH Hero®, our vaginal health formula including 20 billion live cultures, cranberry, nettle, Sea Buckthorn and essential nutrients that supports complete vaginal and urinary tract health.
- High-fibre diet: Fibre provides a food source for the natural probiotics in your gut. It supports a healthy microflora, leading to a healthy microflora of the urinary tract. Learn more in 'What are probiotics'.
- Low-sugar diet: Sugar is bad news for UTIs. It decreases the immune function and encourages the growth of UTI-causing bacteria. You may also enjoy reading 'Is sugar that bad for you?'.
You may also enjoy reading:
- What colour should your urine be?
- How your gut and vagina are linked
- What is Bacterial Vaginosis?
- What is period poo?
- The surprising life impacts of PMS
- What PMS type are you?
- Nutrition for PMS symptoms
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