UTIs in Women: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

online GP consultation

One in every two women or over 50% of women will experience a UTI at some point in their lives. On the other hand, only one in every ten men will get a UTI in their lifetime. A UTI or urinary tract infection is more prevalent in women due to their shorter urethra which allows bacteria to easily travel from the anus to the urethra, causing inflammation and infection. If you’ve been struggling with frequent UTIs or are wondering if your symptoms match those of a UTI, book yourself in for an online GP consultation instead of trying to Google your symptoms and self-diagnosing.

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
An infection of the urinary tract, a UTI can infect any of several parts of your urinary system. The urinary system consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Although lower urinary tract infections that involve the bladder and urethra are more common, upper urinary tract infections that reach the kidneys are more severe and require immediate attention.

UTIs have different names based on their location. These are:

– Cystitis: An infection of the bladder.
– Urethritis: An infection of the urethra.
– Pyelonephritis: An infection of the kidneys.

What are the causes of Urinary Tract Infections?
Women are at greater risk of contracting UTIs because of the naturally short distance between the anus and the urethra. Many different kinds of bacteria live on the skin or around the rectum and vagina. A UTI occurs when this bacteria makes its way inside the person’s urethra, travelling upwards until it reaches the bladder, or in some cases the kidneys. Normally, urinating flushes out this bacteria before it has a chance to reach the bladder, but in certain cases, this might not occur, resulting in a UTI. This is a major reason why women are always advised to wipe from front to back after using the restroom and to urinate after having intercourse.

The most common bacteria that cause UTIs are:

– E.Coli or Escherichia coli
– Proteus mirabilis
– Staphylococcus saprophyticus
– Klebsiella pneumoniae, or
– Enterococcus faecalis.

Who is more at risk of Urinary Tract Infections?
Some people may be more at risk of getting a UTI than others. The risk factors for women include:

– The female anatomy itself
– Being sexually active
– Having diabetes
– Using certain birth control measures such as diaphragms or spermicide
– Going through menopause
– Being pregnant
– Wiping incorrectly, which introduces fecal matter to the urinary tract
– Having certain urinary tract abnormalities
– Using a catheter
– Obstructions in the urinary tract
– A previous UTI
– Recent urinary procedure.

In men, the risk factors include:

– Certain urinary tract abnormalities
– Kidney stones
– Unprotected anal intercourse
– Having diabetes
– Using a catheter
– Being uncircumcised
– Having an enlarged prostate gland
– Recent urinary procedure.

The chances of getting a UTI increase once an individual hits the age of 50, regardless of gender.

What are the symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections?
Depending upon where the infection is located, the symptoms may differ. The most common symptoms of lower tract UTIs in women include:

– A burning sensation when trying to urinate
– Feeling the need to urinate, but only being able to pass a few drops or none at all
– Blood in the urine. Your urine may appear cloudy or have a pinkish, reddish or brownish hue.
– Foul-smelling odour from the urine, as well as cloudy, smelly discharge.
– Lower abdomen pain. Some people also experience pelvic, side or lower back pain.
– Incontinence.

In addition to the above symptoms, upper urinary tract infections can also cause symptoms like:

– High-grade fever
– Shaking and chills
– Lower abdominal pain
– Back pain
– Vomiting
– Nausea
– Confusion and disorientation.

Upper urinary tract infections can permanently damage the kidneys if left untreated or if they occur too frequently, which is why it is imperative to get in touch with a doctor as soon as you start noticing signs and symptoms of a UTI. If getting to a doctor is not possible, make use of one of the many online healthcare apps providing online medical advice in Australia, such as Prime Medic, Instant Consult, Doctors on Demand, Qoctor and more.

How are UTIs diagnosed?
Although a doctor can easily diagnose a UTI based on the symptoms above, you may be asked to submit a urine sample to determine the type of bacteria that has caused the infection. However, if you get UTIs very frequently, your doctor may recommend heading to pathology and getting an ultrasound, CT or MRI scan or cystoscopy to look inside your urethra and bladder to determine the cause.

How are urinary tract infections treated?
The most common and effective way to treat a one-off UTI is through a course of antibiotics. In Australia, antibiotics are not over the counter medication and you need a doctor’s prescription in order to get them. If you have repeated UTIs, your doctor might suggest making some lifestyle changes such as:

– Drinking more water and other fluids to encourage your bladder to produce more urine and flush out bacteria.
– Urinate immediately after having intercourse.
– Always wipe from front to back.
– Increase the use of probiotics such as yoghurt in your diet.
– Switch to cotton underwear and avoid wearing damp underwear or pants.
– Avoid using deodorant sprays, douches and powders in the genital area.
– If you’re using spermicide or a diaphragm as a birth control measure, consider switching to an alternative method.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore your UTI symptoms and immediately book an online GP consultation to prevent the infection from getting to your kidneys.

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