One reason urinary tract infections occur so often is the structure of the female anatomy. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body during urination. The opening of the urethra is positioned in close proximity to both the vagina and the anus. This means bacteria can easily enter the bladder during sex or other means of contamination. Since the urethra is relatively short, the bacteria don’t have to travel far before reaching the bladder.
Women who are pregnant or menopausal are at a higher risk for developing a UTI. Incomplete emptying of the bladder can also cause infection. Blockages, such as kidney stones, or narrowing of the urethra can interfere with the passage of urine, preventing the bladder from fully emptying. Even a small amount of urine remaining in the bladder can lead to a UTI.
There are a number of signs and symptoms associated with urinary tract infections, including:
- Urinary urgency or frequency
- Burning or pain with urination
- Bad smell from urine
- Cloudy or blood-tinged urine
If you are experiencing the above symptoms, your gynecologist will confirm the diagnosis through urinalysis, a laboratory test performed on a urine sample. If necessary, a urine culture may be sent to help identify the type of bacteria responsible for the infection, so that an appropriate antibiotic may be prescribed.
Women with frequently occurring UTIs should work with their OBGYN to identify a cause. Recurrent urinary tract infections may be due to frequent sex, a new sexual partner, or certain forms of birth control. Frequent UTIs may require long-term, low-dose antibiotics or a single dose of antibiotic following sex.
There are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections. These include:
- Wiping from front to back
- Carefully washing anal and genital regions
- Avoiding douches and female powders or deodorant sprays
- Increasing fluid intake
- Emptying the bladder every 2-3 hours and before & after sex
- Wearing underwear with a cotton crotch
Kidney infections share many of the same symptoms as lower urinary tract infections, but may also produce fever, chills, back pain, nausea and vomiting. It is important to report these symptoms to your gynecologist and to seek treatment right away.