Caused by bacterial presence in the urine, UTI can impact any part of your urinary system – bladder, kidneys, ureters and urethra. Most commonly, the infection affects the urethra and bladder but can spread to other parts of the urinary tract if left unattended. UTIs are extremely common, accounting for 8.1 million people seeking treatment each year. However, the incidence is higher in women than men. Nearly 60% of women will experience at least one bout of UTI in their lifetime, compared to merely 12% of men.
Given how common these infections are and the incidence of recurrence in certain high-risk groups such as diabetics and obese people, being informed about the symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment is essential to keep this highly discomforting condition at bay.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
Typically, human urine doesn’t contain bacteria or germs. It’s a by-product of the body’s filtration system. When the kidneys filter out waste and excess water from the blood, urine is created. While it may contain certain toxins, urine is normally free from any bacteria or harmful germs.
This allows it to travel through the urinary tract without causing any contamination. However, when the urine is infested with bacteria, it can lead to inflammation and infection in the organs that form a part of the urinary tract. This infection is known as a urinary tract infection or UTI.
The symptoms of UTIs can vary from person to person, depending on the part of the urinary tract involved as well as the severity of the infection. Symptoms experienced by men and women may also vary.
That said, people dealing with this condition do experience certain common symptoms as well. The following are the most tell-tale indicators of a UTI:
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Being able to pass only small amounts of urine
- Changed appearance of the urine – either cloudy or red, bright pink or brownish. The latter could be a sign of blood in the urines
- Pungent or foul smell in the urine
- Pelvic pain in women and pain in the penis in men.
If the kidneys are involved, symptoms may also include:
- Pain in the back or the flank (side)
- Nausea or vomiting
If the bladder is involved, symptoms include:
- Pressure or pain in the pelvic regions
- Discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Blood in the urine
If the urethra is involved, symptoms include:
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Discharge from urethra
UTIs in men
UTIs are a lot less common in men than they are among women. This is because of the longer distance between the urethral opening, which is at the mouth of the penis, and the bladder. The secretions from the prostate gland are also equipped to kill bacterial growth, which further reduces the risk of UTIs.
Even so, men too can get UTIs. The risk increases in the case of the following:
- Kidney stones
- Enlarged prostate
- Low immunity
- Unprotected sex
Prevention of UTIs among men
Adopting certain healthy habits and paying attention to personal hygiene can help men at a higher risk prevent the infection. These include:
- Not holding urine for too long
- Maintaining the right water and fluid intake to prevent dehydration
- Urinating after sex to flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urethra
- Managing conditions like diabetes with medication and a healthy lifestyle
UTIs in women
Women have a 60% chance of getting a UTI at least once in their adult life. In women, the proximity between the urethra and anus increases the chances of bacteria such as E.Coli entering the urethra. Since the urethra is shorter, the likelihood of these bacteria traveling to the bladder and spreading to other parts of the urinary tract is also higher. Besides, hormonal changes, especially around menopause, can make them more susceptible to UTIs.
Since the risk is higher, women need to be more proactive in taking preventive measures against infection. This risk can get further amplified in the case of:
- Pregnancy, which leads to increased pressure on the urinary tract
- During or post-menopause due to hormonal changes
- Pelvic prolapse that makes emptying the bladder fully harder
- Low immunity
- Use of birth control measures like spermicides and diaphragms
Prevention of UTIs among women
Apart from following hygiene and lifestyle habits recommended for men, women must also pay attention to the following:
- Wiping/washing their private parts from front to back to prevent bacteria from the anus to come in contact with the urethra
- Maintaining good vaginal health, especially around and after menopause
- Using alternative birth control options such as lubricated condoms
Is UTI a Sexually Transmitted Infection?
Even though UTI mimics certain symptoms like painful urination, burning sensation and fever associated with STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea, UTIs are not contagious and cannot be transmitted between sexual partners.
However, engaging in sexual activity, be it penetrative, oral or manual sex can heighten the discomfort and aggravate the UTI symptoms. For instance, pressure on the vaginal walls during intercourse can exert pressure on the bladder as well, which can intensify the pain an infected person may be experiencing due to the UTI.
Sex, irrespective of whether or not you use protection, can increase the risk of introducing more bacteria into the urinary tract (from the person’s own body, if not their partner’s), thereby worsening the infection or slowing down the healing process. The same goes for oral sex and hand jobs.
It’s advisable to hold off sex until the infection has cleared out completely.
Treatment for UTIs
If you experience symptoms of UTIs, seeking medical attention is strongly recommended. A urologist will give you a diagnosis based on tests like a urine culture to test for the presence of bacteria and pus cells in the urine. Based on the type and severity of the infection, the doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics to help clear out the infection.
In addition to this, you can also try certain home remedies to aid the recovery process:
- Drink plenty of water and fluids
- Increase your intake of Vit C either through foods or supplements
- Add probiotics like yogurt to your diet
- If you struggle with frequent UTIs, add natural supplements like D-Mannose, garlic extracts and bearberry leaves to your diet
UTIs are unpleasant and painful, but as long as they’re treated in time, they don’t pose any serious health risks. By paying a little more attention to your intimate hygiene and lifestyle habits, you can reduce their incidence significantly.
To protect the identity, the person in the picture is a model and names have been changed.
Arushi Chaudhary is a freelance journalist and writer with 5 years of experience in print publications such as the Pune Mirror and Hindustan Times, and has spent close to a decade writing for digital platforms and print publications – The Tribune, BR International magazine, Make My Trip, Killer Features, The Money Times, and Home Review, to name a few. Of the many things she's written about over the years, exploring the space of love and relationships through the prism of psychology excites her the most. Writing is her first and forever love. You can find her on Twitter here.