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Urinary tract infection prevention

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common problem for women. One in five women will experience a UTI at least once in her lifetime. A woman’s risk of having another UTI rises each time she has an infection. A UTI occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder.

A 2013 study published by French researchers in the journal PLOS ONE  suggests UTIs may be more common in warmer months. While the study didn’t establish cause and effect, researchers based their findings on the increase in sales of antibiotics used to treat UTIs in France as well as Google searches for the condition in seven countries, including the United States. Why the increase in infection rates? Some experts speculate changes in temperature, sexual activity and urination may play a role. Also, wearing tight-fitting clothing or swimsuits for an extended period of time traps moisture and may lead to growth of infection-causing bacteria.  

Symptoms of urinary tract infection include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Intense urge to urinate, but very little urine passes
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Fever
  • Urine that is cloudy, reddish in color (blood may be present in the urine) or odorous
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the back or side, below the ribs, or in the lower abdomen
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

“The urinary tract has many safeguards to keep these bacteria out, but sometimes the bacteria evade these defenses and start multiplying in the bladder anyway,” says Eden English, M.D., an internal medicine specialist with Piedmont Physicians Group. “UTIs can’t be prevented entirely, but there are a few strategies that can help reduce their frequency.”

Four ways to prevent UTI

  1. Drink plenty of liquids, especially water. While there is no specific recommendation on how much fluid is enough, generally increasing fluid intake can help. Frequent urination flushes bacteria from the urinary tract before an infection can begin.
  2. Wipe from front to back. Doing so after urinating and after a bowel movement helps prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
  3. Empty your bladder soon after intercourse. Urinating after intercourse helps push any bacteria out of the entrance to the urinary tract. Talk to your doctor if you develop UTIs frequently after sex.
  4. Avoid potentially irritating feminine products. Using deodorant sprays or other feminine products, such as douches and powders, in the genital area can irritate the urethra. Also, using spermicides for contraception is associated with an increased risk of UTIs. If you use spermicide and have trouble with bladder infections, talk to your doctor about changing methods of contraception.

If you develop frequent UTIs despite taking preventative measures, talk to your doctor about various treatment strategies.

“While some UTIs will resolve without any treatment, most will benefit from a short course of antibiotic therapy,” Dr. English says. “If you have symptoms of a UTI for more than 24 hours, contact your doctor. Once you have seen your doctor with your first UTI, subsequent infections can be handled over the phone.”

For more information on UTIs, click here

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