Preventing Urinary Tract Infections

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November 13, 2017


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This post is available in: Spanish

When you experience a sudden urge to go to the bathroom, but only a few drops of urine come out — along with a burning sensation and maybe even blood — you may be experiencing a urinary tract infection, or UTI.

The condition – caused by too many bacteria living in part of the urinary tract – is most common among women, but men can get them as well. The National Kidney Foundation estimates that UTIs account for nearly 10 million visits to healthcare providers each year. And while most of these infections are successfully treated with antibiotics, some people may have risk factors that contribute to three or more infections a year, classified as recurring UTIs.

Risk Factors for Urinary Tract Infections

Andres Lichtenberger, M.D., an internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care in South Miami, says some risk factors for recurrent UTIs include:

  • Being a woman – with a shorter urethra, leading from the bladder, bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to cause an infection.
  • Using spermicides, including those on condoms and foams.
  • New sexual partners.
  • Having a mother who has recurrent urinary tract infections.
  • Experiencing a UTI before the age of 15.
  • Changing pelvic anatomy, especially during menopause.
Preventing UTIs

Dr. Lichtenberger explains that the best way to prevent UTIs, especially recurring infections, is to reduce the modifiable risk factors – those that are behavioral. “Good hygiene is key,” he said. “I tell my female patients to be sure they wipe from front to back to avoid the introduction of fecal matter and bacteria into the urinary tract.”

He also advises his patients to adhere to the following recommendations:

  • Wear only 100 percent cotton underwear. Other materials can promote the growth of bacteria through a warmer environment.
  • Change or reduce the use of spermicides.
  • Urinate immediately after sexual intercourse.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

A recent study found that women at risk for recurring UTIs who drank an additional six cups of water a day more than their regular fluid intake cut their risk of another infection by 48 percent. They also reduced their use of antibiotics, used to treat urinary tract infections, by 47 percent.

Dr. Lichtenberger says he’s not surprised by the study’s findings, since previous research has shown that increasing fluid intake helps flush the urinary tract, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra, of harmful bacteria. He warns, though, that people with congestive heart failure or certain kidney diseases should continue to limit their fluid intake, according to their doctors’ advice.

Diagnosing UTIs

If you suspect you may have a urinary tract infection, Dr. Lichtenberger says it’s important to seek medical attention.

“While sometimes these infections resolve on their own, antibiotic treatment will prevent the infection from moving to the kidneys and possibly becoming systemic,” he said. “When the infection reaches that point, it can be deadly.”

A doctor can diagnose a UTI through a urinalysis, which tests for the presence of bacteria, blood and white blood cells, indicating an infection. If a urinalysis indicates an infection, a doctor often orders a urine culture to determine the type of bacteria causing the infection. This helps determine the best antibiotic to treat the UTI.

Treating Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections

Dr. Lichtenberger notes that a proven effective treatment for recurring urinary tract infections is taking antibiotics daily, following strict dosage guidelines to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance. For women whose recurrent urinary tract infections develop as a result of sexual intercourse, research has also shown that taking a dose of antibiotics following intercourse can sometimes help prevent infection. He warns, though, that the use of prophylactic antibiotics should only be considered if other measures have failed, and should certainly not be considered routine.

He explains that because of their ability to manage recurrent UTIs, these treatment strategies are likely to continue, even as more studies evolve to help determine other ways to prevent the infections. But, he says, for most women who don’t have to restrict their fluid intake for other conditions, drinking more fluids may prove successful for reducing the risk of developing a urinary tract infection.

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