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Understanding urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections, commonly called UTIs are fairly common in women. They tend to occur mostly in the bladder and the urethra (the tube that brings urine out). In some cases, the infection can spread to affect the kidneys as well.

In women the urethra is shorter than in men. This makes it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder more easily, thus making women more prone to UTIs compared to men. Bacteria can easily ascend from the skin, vagina and anus into the urethra and the bladder. Several factors increase the risk of getting UTIs including frequent sex, incomplete emptying of the bladder and other disease conditions like diabetes. The risk is also increased during pregnancy and in the menopause.

How do you suspect that you may be having a UTI? One sign is a strong urge to pass urine that cannot be delayed (medically referred to as urgency). As urine flows out, a burning sensation may be felt in the urethra. There may also be some discomfort in the lower abdomen or in the pelvis. The urine may also be cloudy and smelly. Fever, chills, back pain, nausea and vomiting may signify a serious infection that may have spread to the kidneys. This requires prompt and urgent treatment.

Once a UTI is suspected, it is important to have some tests to make a diagnosis prior to initiating treatment. You will be asked to provide a urine sample for a simple test called urinalysis. Further testing may involve trying to identify the specific bacteria causing the infection, and the best antibiotic to use. Such a test is called culture and sensitivity, and may take 2 to 3 days before the results are ready. If a severe infection involving the kidneys is suspected, you may be asked to have additional blood and imaging tests.

Treatment for UTIs is simple and effective. The type, dose and length of the antibiotic treatment will depend on the type of bacteria causing the infection and other factors in your medical history. Symptoms resolve within 1 to 2 days, but it is important to complete the whole course of the antibiotics prescribed. Severe infections involving the kidney may warrant hospital admission and inject able antibiotics.

Is there any way of preventing UTIs? Yes, you can take several strategies to reduce your chances of getting a UTI. Maintain good genital hygiene by carefully washing the area around the vagina and the anus daily. After passing urine or opening bowels, wipe from the front backwards to avoid spreading bacteria around the urethra. Empty your bladder as soon as you feel the urge. And also try to empty the bladder before and after sex. Drinking lots of water helps to flush out bacteria from your urinary system. If you suspect an infection, get prompt testing and treatment.

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