In practice since 2019, Trinity Health IHA Medical Group Obstetrics and Gynecologist, Sara Muszynski, MD, is no stranger to the annoying condition of having a urinary tract infection (UTI). She is happy to share her expertise with the many women who have — and will — get them in their lifetimes. This is what she wants all women to know:
Up to 60 percent of women will experience a UTI in their lifetime, and for some women, it will be multiple times. Unfortunately, women are more prone to UTIs as a function of the female anatomy.
Female gastrointestinal tracts and vaginas are colonized with bacteria — some of which are pathogenic, or capable of causing disease. Because of the short distance from the rectum to the vagina to the urethra, the pathogenic bacteria have easier access to the urethra in women. The bacteria can enter the urethra and travel to the bladder, causing symptoms.
Other causes of UTIs include kidney reflux or bladder reflux, where the kidneys or bladder don’t fully empty. The use of catheters is also a way for UTIs to develop.
Classic symptoms of a UTI include burning when urinating, a sensation of needing to urinate frequently, urgency, or lower abdominal pain. The color of the urine may also be an indicator of a UTI, such as urine that appears a darker amber color or cloudy, but not always.
Prevention and Treatment
Many women first experience a UTI once they become sexually active. Sexual intercourse tends to move around the bacteria in the area of the vagina, rectum, and urethra.
- A personal hygiene reminder: It is always good practice to wipe from “front to back” when using the restroom.
- Urinating following sex may decrease the bacteria that gain access to the urethra.
- Another way to prevent a UTI is to urinate when you need to. Don’t “hold it.”
- Cranberry supplements are often promoted as a source of prevention. Yet clinical studies have not been able to verify what dosing and frequency of cranberry supplements are needed to determine if this is truly effective.
- Frequent hydration is also crucial. Drinking pure water is best for flushing fluids.
- My colleagues and I recommend that women wear cotton underwear. Other materials may lead to excess moisture (an environment in which bacteria thrive).
The treatment for UTIs is a short course of antibiotics.
I tell patients that over-the-counter treatments for UTIs are like a “bladder Tylenol.” They don’t remove the bacteria, but they help with the symptoms of pain and urgency to urinate. The only treatment is truly antibiotics. To target the antibiotic, we need to get a urine sample.
When Symptoms Don’t Necessarily Indicate a UTI
Women should also be aware that the symptom of urgency to urinate does not always indicate a UTI. Caffeine in general, diet sodas, and alcohol are bladder irritants that can cause urgency, but not necessarily a UTI.
Taking any antibiotic for a UTI, upper respiratory infection, or sinusitis can promote a yeast infection in the vagina because it changes the bacteria in the vagina. Most women can differentiate between a yeast infection and a UTI, but sometimes there can be confusion. These points will help you to differentiate:
- Vaginal itching
- Vaginal discharge
- Sensation of burning even when not urinating
Finally, the decrease in estrogen in women going through menopause may lead to a woman having vaginal and urethral burning, which is not related to a UTI.
If you are in your reproductive years, it is easier for physicians to order a lab for a urine sample and to tell from your symptoms if you should begin treatment immediately. You may not need to schedule an appointment; it can be handled on the patient portal.
If you are having recurring UTIs or if you are taking antibiotics and symptoms are not improving, this warrants further evaluation and I would advise coming in for an office visit.
Dr. Muszynski sees patients at Trinity Health IHA Medical Group, Obstetrics & Gynecology – West Arbor. To make an appointment with her, call 734-995-2259 or schedule an appointment online.