A urinary tract infection, or UTI, can be tremendously painful or uncomfortable for those who develop this common form of infection. UTIs can affect both men and women but, owing to the anatomical differences between these two genders, these can be much more common in women.
It’s important to note that a UTI can describe an infection located in several different areas of the body, including the urethra, kidneys or bladder and can vary in severity depending on where this infection is found. As with most conditions, there are a number of causes for UTIs and there are several risk factors exclusive to women when it comes to this type of infection.
Many of the most common symptoms of UTIs are widely known and are usually linked to urination. Those who suffer from UTIs will often complain of a burning sensation when passing urine or a feeling of needing to go to the toilet more often. At times, there may be an unpleasant smell when urinating and there may even be blood visible in what is passed. Away from this, UTIs are known to cause abdominal, pelvic and back pain and can even lead to bouts of shaking, nausea and vomiting. In severe UTIs, and particularly those experienced by elderly patients, confusion and irritability may also occur.
Why are women more susceptible to infection?
UTIs commonly occur when bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract (bowel) contaminates the urinary tract. A simple UTI can progress into a moderate to severe infection if left untreated, potentially affecting the urethra, bladder, kidneys and even causing sepsis.
Women are more vulnerable to UTIs than men because the opening of the urethra (the tube which drains the urinary bladder) is closer to the anus and the urethra is also shorter in the female body than the male body.
Sexually active women who have penetrative vaginal intercourse are also at greater risk of developing UTIs because the opening of the urethra is in close proximity to the vaginal opening, allowing vaginal and perianal bacteria to contaminate the urethra. Emptying the bladder after sex reduces the risk of developing a UTI.
Women who have gone through the menopause are also more susceptible to infection because the tissues of the female geniital tract become thinner and atrophic as a result of the oestrogen deprivation that takes place after the menopause. The function of the bladder and pelvic floor may also be impaired by this lack of oestrogen, leading to incomplete voiding of the bladder, which is an independent risk factor for UTIs. The replacement of oestrogen should be considered in this situation, or alternatively, MonaLisa Touch, a form of laser treatment, has been shown to improve the health of the vaginal and vulval tissues, thus helping these symptoms.
When should you seek medical advice?
If you suspect you have a UTI and this is having a significant impact on your daily life, it’s always best to have these symptoms investigated and treated by a medical professional. Most of the time, UTIs can easily be resolved with the help of medication. In some uncommon cases, the occurrence of UTI could be an indication of another underlying problem such as kidney stones or pregnancy. And whilst the most common forms of UTI affect the bladder and urethra and can be treated more easily, it’s always better to deal with this before further, more debilitating issues occur.
The use of antibiotics should be targeted to those who have a confirmed infection and have had tests to ensure that the correct antibiotic has been administered. It is therefore important that the appropriate investigations are performed. These investigations can include testing a fresh sample of urine to ensure that infections are present and the correct antibiotics can be prescribed.
Inappropriate use of antibiotics can lead to individuals developing bacteria that can become resistant to the effects of common antibiotics and make future infections increasingly difficult to treat. Furthermore, if a patient has a condition which mimics a UTI, such as severe vulvovaginal atrophy. then antibiotics will not help the symptoms and lead to a delay in the correct treatment.
As a gynaecologist with over 25 years of experience, Mr Francis Gardner has a wide working knowledge of all manner of female-specific medical conditions. During a consultation or One Stop See and Treat assessment, he will be able to identify the root cause of your symptoms and work with you to eliminate this problem. Sensitivity and results are guaranteed on every visit, with Mr Francis Gardner.
UTIs are often caused by the contamination of gut bacteria entering the urinary tract. There are a number of measures you can take to reduce the risk of developing a UTI. These include staying hydrated in order to keep your urine diluted and to ensure that you empty your bladder more frequently. Maintaining good personal hygiene is also of great importance, and this can involve things such as wiping from front to back and taking showers instead of baths. Wearing loose underwear and clothing is also encouraged. Unfortunately, despite taking such measures some women are still prone to UTIs and in these cases they may need other specific treatments.
Mild symptoms of UTI may be self-managed by increasing your fluid intake and taking regular pain relief such as paracetamol. If your symptoms are significant enough to cause more severe pain, force you to change your normal routine and necessitate the use of hot water bottles, then you should seek medical advice. If you have observed blood in your urine, you should consult a medical professional as a matter of urgency.
If you are pregnant and suspect you have a UTI, you should also seek a medical assessment as UTIs in pregnancy can be more severe and lead to complications such as premature birth.
In most instances, you will be asked to provide a fresh urine sample in a clean container. This will be initially tested in the clinic and potentially sent to the laboratory for culturing of the bacteria and testing for sensitivity to the correct antibiotic.
It may be necessary to undergo further tests, particularly if you have recurrent symptoms of a UTI as this may indicate there is an underlying medical condition.
Following assessment and diagnosis, your UTI will normally be treated with a course of antibiotics. The antibiotics should be reviewed and urine retested if the symptoms reoccur. In this situation, it may be necessary to perform further tests to rule out other underlying conditions, including pregnancy, kidney stones and incomplete voiding of the bladder.