A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection of any part of the urinary system. This is the system which eliminates urine from your body and includes the kidneys, the bladder, and the urethra.
There are two basic types of UTI, cystitis, and pyelonephritis.
Cystitis is generally a mild infection, affecting the lower urinary tract – the urethra and bladder. Symptoms of cystitis include:
- A burning, uncomfortable sensation in the urethra and abdomen around the bladder. It will be particularly apparent if you need to urinate.
- Feeling as if it is impossible to completely empty your bladder.
- Needing to urinate far more often than usual.
- Only being able to release a tiny amount of urine, even though you feel the need to urinate.
- Inflammation around the urethra.
- Swelling in the lower abdomen, over the bladder.
Pyelonephritis is a much more severe infection, affecting the upper urinary tract – the kidneys. Often, UTIs begin as cystitis, but the infection moves up the tract to the kidneys when left untreated. Along with the symptoms of cystitis, you may experience:
- Mid back pain, on one or both sides. This can be severe. Swelling may be apparent over the affected area.
- Very high fever.
- Shaking and chills.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Extreme abdominal pain.
Diagnosing a UTI
It is fairly simple to identify a case of cystitis yourself if you have had it before. The burning sensation in the urethra and bladder is difficult to confuse with any other pain.
It is possible to purchase urine test strips at your local pharmacy to confirm this diagnosis without visiting a doctor. These dipstick tests look for signs of nitrites and leukocytes (white blood cells) in your urine, which is produced when you have an infection.
If you are unsure, any clinic, pharmacy or doctor will be able to do a urine test to see if you show signs of a UTI. It is likely that you will be given an antibiotic to cure your UTI if you go this route.
If you are keen to treat your infection without immediately using an antibiotic, please read the next section on non-medicinal treatments for UTIs. However, you should note that if these treatments are not successful, or your UTI is severe, you will require an antibiotic to completely clear up the infection.
You may have a UTI if you notice;
- Pain or burning when you urinate
- Fever, tiredness, or shakiness
- An urge to urinate often
- Pressure in your lower belly
- Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy or reddish
- Pain in your back or side below the ribs
Top 7 Home Remedies for Urinary Tract Infection
There are various over-the-counter and simple homemade remedies that can be used to stop a UTI in its tracks. If you experience repeated infections, it is best to keep these remedies at home in case of a sudden attack. If you are concerned about taking antibiotics too often, especially if you experience recurrent bouts of cystitis, it is good to know how to get rid of a UTI without medicine.
Drink lots of water. This seems like an overly simple solution, but increasing your fluid intake will reduce the acidity level in the bladder. The burning sensation comes from a high acidity level in the bladder, which is a breeding ground for infection. By altering the acidity with fluids, you can stop an infection before it has time to take hold. The additional liquid will produce extra urine which can flush out bacteria from the urethra.
2. Parsley water
Parsley water acts as a diuretic, encouraging your kidneys to keep flushing out urine. By keeping urine flowing, you encourage bacteria to be flushed out through the urethra, hopefully before a full blown infection starts.
Parsley water is very easy to make.
- Add a cup of fresh parsley leaves to a pot of boiling water.
- Reduce the heat.
- Allow the leaves to simmer for about ten minutes.
- Strain, and drink hot or cold.
3. Baking Soda (bicarbonate of soda)
There are many baking soda remedies available at your local pharmacy. The intention of all of them is to reduce the acidity level in the bladder, easing irritation.
If you don’t have any over-the-counter treatments in the house, have a look in your pantry. Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda in one large glass of water and drink it down, preferably first thing in the morning.
Don’t use this as a long-term treatment, however, as you will end up with high sodium levels. A few days of treatment should do the trick and you will feel relief from the pain quickly. Note, also, that it may be better to suffer through the pain of raising the acidity of your urine, in order to create a less hospitable environment for bacteria.
4. Vitamin C
Vitamin C makes urine more acidic, inhibiting the growth of bacteria. If you have an infection, take a 1000mg supplement of vitamin C per day. Note, however, that it is possible that this may cause bladder irritation. You need to weigh up whether the gain is worth the pain!
5. Avoid irritants
Avoid things that irritate the lining of the bladder. Chocolate, citrus, fizzy drinks and caffeine are the worst culprits. As a rule of thumb, the hotter the color of a fruit or vegetable, the more likely it is to cause bladder irritation. Using this rule, steer clear of reds, oranges, and yellows – tomato based sauces, hot peppers, and chilies would be examples.
If you experience repeated attacks of cystitis, it can be worth keeping a food diary to discover if there is a particular food or drink that is causing your bladder to become irritated. An irritated bladder is more prone to infection, and it hurts!
6. Hot compress
Apply heat over the bladder when trying to urinate. The relaxation of the muscles from a hot compress can encourage the bladder to release more urine, reducing irritation. A hot water bottle works well.
7. Use a footstool
When urinating, put your feet up on a small step (a children’s step works well). The change in position can help you to release more urine than usual. This can help to relieve the pain of a UTI almost immediately and prevent a major infection from taking hold. If you are prone to bladder infections, it is worth doing this all the time to ensure that your bladder completely empties.
How to Prevent UTI
Women are far more likely than men to contract urinary tract infections, due to the external composition of the sexual and urinary system. As the anus and vagina are close to the urethra, it is easy to introduce bacteria to the urinary system. In men, the distance between the anus and urethra is larger, providing a level of protection. In men, an added layer of protection comes from the function of the prostate gland, which acts as an antibacterial barrier.
Young children are highly susceptible to UTIs until fully toilet trained. Girls should be taught to wipe from front to back following using the toilet, in order to avoid infection. If a child gets repeated urinary tract infections, a doctor may need to investigate whether they have an abnormally short urethra.
Some simple tips can help you to avoid UTIs;
- Never hold in urine if at all possible. Go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need to urinate.
- Putting your feet up on a small step when urinating can help you to avoid retaining urine.
- Drink plenty of fluids on an everyday basis.
- Include drinks like cranberry juice and ginger tea regularly in your diet, as a preventative measure. Both are deliciously chilled.
- Avoid foods and drinks that irritate the bladder.
- Urinate and then wash carefully after sexual intercourse to avoid infection.
- Always wipe front to back after using the toilet.
- Keep a diary to determine the cause of repeated infections – note food and drinks consumed, sexual contact and times when you use the toilet to help you identify patterns. Note your pain levels through the day. Go through this diary with your doctor.
Causes of UTI
Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria being introduced into the urinary tract. Urine is usually sterile, but bacteria can make their way into the system through the urethra.
In almost all cases, UTIs are caused by E. Coli bacteria from the bowel. These bacteria are moved to the opening of the urethra from the anus when wiping after using the toilet or during sexual intercourse.
Bacteria is usually flushed out of the urethra during urination, but if too much bacteria builds up, infection results. This is why it is important not to hold in urine, and to ensure you empty your bladder fully each time you use the toilet.
After sexual intercourse, ensure that you urinate, and then clean yourself thoroughly. This is equally applicable to men and women.
People at Increased Risk of UTIs
- People with kidney stones or other blockages of the urinary system. A history of kidney stones will leave you with an increased risk of infection, even if you do not currently suffer from them.
- People with conditions that interfere with bladder emptying, such as spinal injuries.
- Postmenopausal women – The hormonal changes of menopause can cause alteration to the function of the bladder.
- Pregnant women – Hormonal changes can make the bladder more susceptible to infection. If you suspect a UTI, please see your doctor immediately, as it may present a danger to your unborn child to leave it untreated.
- People with suppressed immune systems – Examples would be people living without autoimmune disorders, TB and HIV. If you have a suppressed immune system, you will need to take care to avoid contracting a UTI and see a doctor immediately if you feel an infection starting.
- Sexually active women – Sexual activity is one way in which bacteria can be introduced through the urethra.
- Women who use a diaphragm for birth control – The structure of the diaphragm creates a place where bacteria can thrive.
- Men with an enlarged prostate – The prostate would usually function as a deterrent to bacteria. When it is enlarged, it does not work as well to protect the urinary system from infection.
- Very young infants – Babies have an increased chance of contracting infections while in diapers. Very young infants are especially prone to infection due to undeveloped immune systems. Take great care to always clean your baby girl from front to back. Wash your own hands thoroughly before and after changing diapers to avoid introducing bacteria.
- Young children still learning to wipe properly. This is especially true in daycare environments, where many children are present and hygiene standards may not be as high as in the home.
- People with catheters, particularly in hospital environments. Proper catheter care needs to be taught to all people involved with the patient.
Important Notes for UTI
- Interstitial cystitis
In some cases, cystitis symptoms can occur without the sign of infection in the urine. When this happens repeatedly, the condition is referred to as interstitial cystitis. This painful condition can be debilitating and needs to be handled by a urologist (a doctor specializing in the urinary tract).
If you suffer from interstitial cystitis, you will need to employ the preventative advice given above on a continual basis. Bladder inflation under sedation can help with pain, but your doctor will need to determine whether you are a candidate for this treatment. Other methods of treatment include nerve blockers and medications to reduce bladder irritation.
- Cranberry juice
Although cranberry juice has been recommended as a UTI fighter for many years, there is no evidence that it actually helps during an infection. You are better off drinking pure water. However, as a preventative measure, the high vitamin C in cranberry juice is helpful.
- Listen to your body
Although home remedies can be very successful in treating mild urinary tract infections, you need to be aware that a severe infection can be dangerous. In rare cases, pyelonephritis (kidney infection) can be life-threatening, and such infections often require hospitalization and the administration of IV antibiotics.
Pay attention to your body. Very high fevers, severe pain, and chronic conditions need the attention of a doctor. If you notice no improvement in a mild condition after a few days, consult a professional.
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