Uinary Tract Infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria enters your urinary tract and multiplies there. The bacteria can affect more than one area in the urinary tract including urethra, ureters, bladder and kidneys.
They are the second most common types of bacterial infections to happen in a human body. Although UTIs are more common in women, they occur in men too. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, UTIs are responsible for around 8 million doctor visits per year. It also says that 40-60% of women will have at least one urinary tract infection at some point in their lives.
In majority of the cases, the E. coli bacterium is the cause of the UTI. E. coli is found in the intestines. When the bacteria remain inside the intestine, they are harmless, but sometimes when they enter the urinary tract, they cause an infection.
In men, urinary tract infection is most of the times associated with enlarged prostate which blocks the flow of urine.
Sexual activity may also trigger UTIs in women as intercourse can make the bacteria move from vaginal area to the opening of the urethra. If women clean the genital area before sex and urinate after sex, then they can lower the risk of a UTI. The risk of infection is also higher in people who have a weak immune system.
Symptoms of UTIs
- Pain or burning sensation when urinating
- Frequent urination
- Lower abdominal pain
- Low-grade fevers
- Change in colour or smell of urine
- Blood in urine
Can antibiotics resolve UTIs?
Most of the times urinary tract infections are not serious, but if they are not treated properly, then the infection can spread in your blood and kidneys and can be life-threatening. Kidney infections can lead to kidney damage.
Usually the symptoms of UTI improve after two to three days of being on antibiotics. However, minor or uncomplicated UTIs can be resolved on their own or with the help of home remedies, but the complicated and more serious UTIs need medical treatment. Such UTIs involve changes in the urinary tract like reduced flow of urine or swollen prostate, bacteria species that are resistant to antibiotics or conditions affecting immune system like lupus, HIV or cardiac disease.
Antibiotics are the standard and effective treatment for UTIs. Antibiotics kill the bacteria causing the UTI. Most of the UTIs occur when bacteria gets into the urinary tract from outside your body. Some of the species of bacteria that cause UTIs are –
- E. coli species of bacteria that are most of the times responsible for most of the infections.
- Staphylococcus epidermidis
- Klebsiella pneumoniae
Disadvantages of antibiotics for UTIs
Although antibiotics can be effective in treating UTIs, they can develop allergies in people. According to a study published in Current Infectious Disease Reports, 22% of women undergoing antibiotic treatment for mild UTIs develop Candida infections in vagina. Candida is a fungal infection.
Side effects of antibiotics for UTIs include
- Abnormal liver function tests
More serious risks of antibiotics are
Some bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics. E.coli bacterium is showing rising drug resistance, thus becoming the primary reasons for UTIs. Every time you use an antibiotic, the chances of bacteria developing resistance to the antibiotic are higher. This is more likely to happen when you do not complete the entire course of treatment. When antibiotics do not kill the bacteria causing an infection, the bacteria becomes stronger and multiplies.
Most of the times, the overuse or underuse of antibiotics is the reason for antibiotic resistance. This happens when the same antibiotic is repeatedly used for recurrent UTIs. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 2 million people each year in the United States develop antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Nowadays doctors have also reduced the use of antibiotics and prefer other treatments that are effective.
It is also important for you to complete the course of treatment until the end date and always make sure that you do not share your antibiotics with others.
Destroying good bacteria
Your body contains many types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that help your body to function properly. Antibiotics along with destroying bad bacteria also end up destroying good bacteria, increasing your chances of developing other infections.
Home remedies for UTIs
Although home remedies are not guaranteed to be effective in treating UTIs, they are helpful in preventing recurring infections or discourage UTIs from developing. So, you can reduce your chances of developing UTI by trying some of these home remedies to treat UTIs without antibiotics.
Drink plenty of water
Increase your intake of water. Water helps the organs of urinary tract to remove the bacteria effectively from the body while retaining the essential nutrients and electrolytes. When you are hydrated, it dilutes your urine and lets it pass through the system speedily which makes it difficult for the bacteria to reach the cells lining urinary organs and cause an infection. The more water you drink, the more you will urinate.
On an average you should drink at least 6-8 glasses of water every day.
Urinate whenever needed
Although it is quite painful to urinate when you have UTI, it is important to urinate as frequently as possible. For this, it is important to drink plenty of water. The more you drink water, the more you will urinate. Also, you should not hold your urine as it helps the bacteria multiply in your urinary tract. When you urinate frequently, it puts a pressure on the bacteria in the urinary tract and can help flush them out. It also gives less time for the bacteria in the urine to get attached to the cells in the urinary tract, thereby reducing the risk of forming an infection. Always urinate when you feel the urge to prevent UTI.
Take cranberry juice
Cranberry juice is said to be one of the effective natural treatments for UTIs. People have used cranberries since ages for clearing genital infections. Studies although have shown mixed results. There is no hard evidence that cranberry juice treats infections, but it may help to prevent one. According to a study published in Clinics in 2012, cranberry juice contains compounds that stop E. coli bacteria from attaching itself to the cells in the urinary tract.
Cranberry juice has antioxidants including polyphenols containing anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It is recommended to drink 400 millimeters of 25% cranberry juice every day to treat UTIs.
You can also try unsweetened cranberry juice, cranberry supplements or dried cranberries.
Probiotics can help keep your urinary tract healthy and free from harmful bacteria. Lactobacillus, probiotic bacteria, helps to treat and prevent UTI. These bacteria help by preventing harmful bacteria from attaching to the cells of urinary tract. They also produce hydrogen peroxide in the urine which acts a strong antibacterial. Probiotics also lower the pH of urine making environment less favourable for the bacteria to survive in the urinary tract.
People who are on lactobacillus supplements with antibiotics for treating UTIs may develop less resistance to antibiotics than those who do not take these supplements.
Probiotics are there in a range of dairy products like –
- some cheese
If you do not like taking the above products, you can also try taking probiotic supplements, which are available in a capsule or a powder form that can be mixed with water or other beverages.
Take vitamin C
As vitamin C is an antioxidant, it helps to improve your immune system. It reacts with nitrates present in the urine and forms nitrogen oxide that kills bacteria. Vitamin C can also lower the pH in the urine which makes it unfavourable for the bacteria to survive.
People have been traditionally using vitamin C to treat urinary infections. However, scientific research doesn’t have much proof to confirm that vitamin C intake helps to prevent or treat UTIs. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is recommended that people above the age 19 should get at least 75 mg of vitamin C every day, while men should take at least around 90 mg every day. People who smoke should get an additional 35 mg of vitamin C each day.
D-mannose, a supplement made from glucose-like sugar, is said to help in preventing E. coli from sticking to the walls of urinary tract. When taken with a lot of water, the supplement can help to flush out the bacteria causing the UTI. Experts suggest drinking 500 milligrams every two to three hours when you have symptoms of UTI. Always make sure to drink lot of water all through the day to help the D-mannose remove the bacteria. If the symptoms persist for more than a day, consult your doctor. Those with diabetes should avoid taking D-mannose. Also, if you are taking other medications, you should tell your doctor about it before starting this treatment. A common side effect of this supplement is diarrhea.
Try bear berries
Research has also found that bear berries also known as uva-ursi are an effective herb when it comes to treating UTIs. The plant also found in the form of supplement has diuretic properties that help you flush out the bacteria through urine. Uva-ursi contains substances like flavonoids, arbutin, tannins, resin, gallic, phenolic acids and egallic acid. As it contains such powerful ingredients, you need to be careful while taking it. The supplement should not be consumed by pregnant or breast-feeding women.
Things to do to prevent bladder infections
Urinate after sex
Researchers have found that urinating after sex is helpful in preventing UTIs. When you urinate, it flushes out the bacteria out of your urethra, thus washing out E. coli before it attaches itself to the walls of your urinary tract. So, don’t forget to urinate before and after sex.
Wipe from front to back
Most of the times, UTIs develop when bacteria enters urethra from rectum. Urethra lets urine flow out of your body. Once bacteria get access to urethra, they can go up to the organs of your urinary tract and lead to infections. In order to prevent the bacteria from coming into contact with your genitals, always use separate toilet papers for wiping your anus and genitals.
Carry out good sexual hygiene
When you have sex, you are letting bacteria and microbes enter your urinary tract from outside your body. So, it is essential to practice good sexual hygiene as it can lower the number of bacteria getting transferred during intercourse and other sexual acts.
Tips to follow good sexual hygiene:
- Use contraception like condoms.
- Wash your genitals, especially the foreskin, before and after sex.
- Change condoms or wash your genitals if you are switching from anal to vaginal sex.
- Ensure that your sexual partners know of any current or previous UTIs.
Researchers are trying to develop vaccines that would prevent bacteria from getting attached to the walls of urinary tract.
Experts say that when you maintain an acidic pH of your urinary tract, it makes the environment unfavourable for the bacteria to survive or to grow. So, the pH balance of your urine has a significant effect on the UTIs.
Experts also say that it is of no use to try to make your urine acidic after you have developed UTI. But if your urine is acidic, it works as precaution for recurring infections as it stops E. coli from growing in the urinary tract. Apple cider vinegar can help you to make you pee acidic. Take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a tincture of cranberry daily.
If you think you have UTI, you should talk to your doctor. Although it is not essential to treat UTI with antibiotics, you should still get medical attention rather than trying to treat it yourself. This will help you from developing more severe infection.