Don’t get me wrong, there’s a whole bunch of wonderful things about being a woman, but let’s face it, we’ve all had our moments of resentment at the idea that there are some issues our male counterparts simply don’t have to worry about.
Yes, navigating the world as a woman isn’t always an easy feat. From having to deal with a lifetime of bloody periods to bearing the pains of pregnancy and childbirth, and just when you think the worst of it is over, Mother Nature has one last cruel trick up her sleeve; cue the menopause (delightful). Amidst all the palaver, getting some moments of much-needed reprieve isn’t too much to ask, right? Wrong. For many women, contracting a urinary tract infection (UTI) is the cherry on the cake.
Thanks to the unique way their bodies are designed, women are an astonishing 30 times more likely to develop a UTI than men (but that certainly doesn’t mean a man is immune to them). A woman has a shorter urethra (the passage that expels urine from the body) than a man. This makes it much easier for bacteria to travel through it and multiply in the bladder and kidneys, causing an infection.
So what can you do to safeguard yourself from these troublesome trespassers? Prevention is always better than cure, but if you’re currently suffering from a UTI, read on to learn how you can overcome your painful symptoms and double down on that irritating infection so you can evict it from your body for good.
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What is a UTI, and how does it start?
The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, bladder, and the tubes that run between them; any one of these parts getting infected with bacteria can kick off a UTI. As painful as they can be, bladder infections aren’t something to be worried about; however, if left untreated, the infection can spread to the kidneys, which can be a lot more serious, making it all the more important to nip the problem in the bud.
The main culprit of a UTI is a bacterium called E.Coli that usually lives in the bowel. In its natural territory, this microbe plays an important role in digesting food and absorbing nutrients; it is only when it starts to stray to places it doesn’t belong that it can become a real problem.
A blocked flow of urine can also cause a UTI by making it difficult for the bladder to completely empty itself, often as a result of underlying health issues or surgical procedures. The urine accumulates, creating an idyllic environment for the bacteria to thrive.
For some women, UTIs may become a chronic problem when bacteria from a previous infection are still lurking about in the bladder, waiting for the opportune moment to strike again. The good news, though, is that a UTI can easily be cured by taking extra caution and with proper medical and at-home treatments.
What increases my risk of getting a UTI?
We’ve already mentioned how purely being a woman can predispose them to a UTI, but the following factors can further increase the likelihood of developing one:
- Sexual activity
- Using spermicides or diaphragms as contraception
- Kidney stones
- Having a catheter
- Lack of estrogen in the lining of the vagina
- Heavy use of antibiotics
- Poor personal hygiene
What are the symptoms of a UTI?
You can’t fight infection if you don’t have a clue what it is. Many symptoms indicate a UTI, which can vary by age and gender. The most obvious ones include:
- A burning sensation while urinating
- A frequent and overwhelming urge to pee, yet hardly anything leaks out
- Foul-smelling urine
- Cloudy or blood-tinged urine
- Abdominal aches and pain
- Feeling weak, shaky, and fatigued
Now that you’re in the know, you may not doubt that your symptoms are that of a UTI, which is great because you can focus on getting better that much quicker. But for those of you who are still not so sure, it’s a good idea to make a quick trip to your doctor who will be able to confirm your diagnosis by running a quick urine test.
How can I treat my UTI symptoms?
Don’t despair – thankfully, there are many ways you can take the reins and conquer your painful UTI symptoms and be well on the way to banishing the bacteria from your bladder for good.
Drink plenty of water
Not only does water flush the body of harmful toxins and bacteria, but it also keeps your urine diluted, making the process of peeing a lot less painful. Just don’t put off a trip to the toilet anytime you get the urge to pee.
Avoid caffeinated beverages
On the flip side, any drink that contains caffeine – like tea, coffee, soft drinks, and alcohol – is dehydrating and irritating to the bladder, which will undoubtedly make it feel like your peeing fire.
Make dietary changes
Choosing a healthier diet can do wonders in warding off an unwarranted infection. Eating wholesome foods that consist of colorful fruit and vegetables, high fiber, protein, and healthy fats can give your body a much-needed antioxidant boost. In particular, up your intake of vitamin C and ‘good’ bacteria called probiotics. Also, eating more cranberries and blueberries has been promising in deterring UTIs that keep coming back with a vengeance.
If you suffer from UTIs, you’ll know all too well how antibiotics are a double-edged sword. While these pills can kill any harmful bacteria in your system, they can also cause a whole lot of damage to the beneficial microbes living inside you, making it easy for the infection to return. Therefore, it is vital that you always take antibiotics as instructed by your doctor, and never for longer than you need to. It may also help to take a course of probiotics alongside your treatment to keep the good bacteria thriving.
Take over-the-counter pain medications.
Although with proper treatment, a UTI can be cleared up in a matter of days, it can feel like forever with the pain that comes with it. Thankfully, there are some over-the-counter medications you can take to relieve much of the pain and discomfort. Speak to your pharmacist about the range of pain relief they can offer and how to choose the best one for you.
Use a heating pad
The abdominal aches and pains that come with a UTI may not be paralyzing, but they can certainly put a downer on your day. Try using a heating pad or hot water bottle to stave off such symptoms and relieve pressure on the bladder.
Wear loose-fitting, cotton underwear
Few things can be more irritating than tight clothing that doesn’t allow your skin to breathe. To make matters worse, it can trap moisture, thereby creating a breeding ground for bacteria, which is why it is important to wear cotton underwear and loose clothing to keep the area around the urethra dry and germ-free.
Avoid using spermicide or a diaphragm as birth control.
The vagina is a sensitive thing and not always welcoming of foreign bodies. Using obtrusive items like spermicide, a diaphragm, sex toys, and even tampons can run riot on its delicate pH balance, making it vulnerable to harmful bacteria. If you’re prone to UTIs, you may want to switch to non-invasive birth control and sanitary products. And while on the subject of non-invasiveness, it’s worth mentioning that douching and using scented items in the vagina is also a big no – warm water will do just fine in keeping it clean.
Urinate before and after sex
During sex, it is easy for bacteria to get pushed into the urethra. The last thing you want to feel after your most intimate moments is the fury of a UTI firebomb, which is why it is super crucial to pee both before and shortly after sex to make sure any loitering bacteria has been flushed out of your system.
Wipe from front to back
If you’re a woman, your urethra and anus are living in pretty close quarters. Following proper hygiene practice, it is essential to keep bacteria at bay, especially after a bowel movement, so that the E. Coli we mentioned earlier moves as far away from the urethra as possible.
Practice good hygiene
A clean vagina means a happy vagina, so it is essential to always practice good hygiene – especially during your period, when your propensity of getting an infection is increased, by changing pads or tampons regularly and keeping the area clean and dry.
Opt for showers over baths
While there’s nothing better than soaking in a bathtub after a stressful day, showers are the better option if you’re struggling to get rid of a stubborn UTI. Taking a bath is pretty much like sending an open invitation to bacteria and harsh chemicals to go in your urethra and beyond.
The bottom line is that nothing will guarantee you safety from a UTI. Still, by putting in place the above measures, if it ever does decide to strike, you can have the upper hand and give your immune system a fighting chance in the battle against harmful bacteria.