Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common, uncomfortable infections that can happen in any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Anyone can develop a UTI, but they are more common in women. About one in five women will experience a UTI in their lifetime, and many will have repeat infections. Although symptoms are often uncomfortable, several treatment options are available to speed recovery and prevent future infections.
Some women are at a higher risk of developing a UTI, including those who are sexually active, pregnant, experiencing menopause, or use a diaphragm for birth control.
Most UTIs are caused by bacteria that travel up the urethra to the bladder. As the bacteria grow, it causes inflammation which leads to irritation and pain, a common bodily response to fighting infection. Typical symptoms include:
Preventing bacteria from entering the urinary system through the urethra is the best way to reduce infection.
Your provider will collect a urine sample and order a urine culture test to diagnose if your symptoms are caused by a UTI. This will help determine the correct course of treatment. If you get frequent or chronic UTIs, that do not improve with lifestyle changes, your doctor might recommend an ultrasound, CT scan, an MRI, or a cystoscopy, which involves using a long, thin tube with a lens to view the inside of your urethra and bladder to look for abnormalities.
Antibiotics are the most common treatment for urinary tract infections. The most common medications prescribed are:
The specific course of antibiotics is determined based on the results of your urine culture and the specific bacteria causing infection.
Relief often comes only a few days after starting treatment, but it is necessary to finish the entire dose of medication to prevent the infection from returning. Additionally, it’s important to avoid delaying treatment for a suspected UTI so it doesn’t lead to a kidney infection.
Over-the-counter medications such as Azo, Uristat, and Cystex can help control the infection and reduce symptoms. Talk with your provider before trying any of these over-the-counter options, as they can affect the results of a urinalysis.
Some claim that cranberry juice works to cure or prevent infections due to a tannin that might ward off E. coli bacteria, the most common cause of urinary tract infections. Although drinking pure, unsweetened cranberry juice may help reduce symptoms slightly, it has not been medically proven to treat or cure UTIs. Drinking cranberry juice should never replace a visit to your provider’s office to diagnose and treat a UTI.
While UTIs can be uncomfortable and inconvenient, they are easily treated if caught early. For this reason, contact your provider if you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms or signs of a UTI.