Dr. Lissa at your service, talking today about perhaps one of the most dreaded afflictions in the Universe, the urinary tract infection (UTI). Have you ever had one? If so, you’re probably cringing right now, tempted to cross your legs and hold your pee-pee in with both hands like a little girl who really has to go. Anyone who has experienced it knows that UTIs totally zap your mojo, and since they affect about 8-10 million people per year, chances are we’ve all been there. Here is the skinny from this end of the stirrups on that sinister, mojo-burgling coochie invader.How do I know if I have a UTI?
The most common UTI symptoms include urinary frequency (you feel like you have to go, even when you just emptied your bladder), dysuria (burning when you urinate), and hematuria (blood in the urine). UTIs that ascend to the kidney to cause pyelonephritis can cause fever, back pain, and sometimes nausea/vomiting.What causes UTIs?
A UTI is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract, which is normally sterile. The most common bug to cause a UTI is Escherichia coli (E. coli), a bacteria that normally lives in the bowel. A variety of things can cause this bowel bacteria to climb up the urethra (the tube from the bladder to the outside world, where the pee comes out). If E. coli or other bowel bacteria gets into your bladder, it can grow and wreak havoc.I get UTIs all the time. Why does that happen?
Most people get UTIs rarely, if at all. If you get them frequently, see your doctor to make sure there are no anatomical defects or health conditions, such congenital defects in the urinary tract or diabetes, that predispose you to UTIs. If that’s ruled out, it may be that your sex life is the culprit. Most often, UTIs are precipitated by bouts of frequent intercourse (we docs call it honeymoon cystitis.) Certain sexual positions and behaviors can increase the risk of bacteria from the bowel making its way into the urinary tract. Do you notice that you only get UTIs when you’re in a relationship and having sex frequently? Do certain positions always result in UTIs? If so, you may want to take preventative measures to keep you from running to the potty all the time.
What can I do to prevent frequent UTIs?
- Drink cranberry juice (yes, it does really help!). But remember, cranberry juice is high in sugar. Cranberry tablets are a good sugar-free alternative.
- Take high doses of vitamin C. Because vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, extra vitamin C spills over into the urine and makes it more acidic. Acidic urine creates a less receptive environment for bacterial growth and reduces the risk of infection.
- Drink lots of water. Dilute urine keeps the system flowing and prevents stagnation, which also increases the risk of infection.
- Take probiotics, which can help by altering the bowel flora.
- Avoid inciting agents, such as caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, and other bladder irritants.
- Make sure you and your partner clean your bottoms well with soap and water before sex.
- Never put anything that’s been in your bottom near the vagina or urethra. If you engage in anal intercourse, bathe before you cross over.
- If you’re using a diaphragm, you may want to consider other birth control options, since the diaphragm may irritate the bladder.
- Make sure you wipe from front to back after using the bathroom to avoid contaminating the urethra with bowel bacteria.
- If you get frequent UTIs related to sex and only have sex here and there, your doctor may recommend you take a dose of an antibiotic before intercourse.
Because of the short length of the female urethra, the outside world with all its bacteria is much closer to the bladder than it is in male urinary anatomy. Also, the proximity of the female urethra to the anus increases the risk. (If you’re unsure how all the wires connect down there, take the Pretty Pink Pussy Tour). UTIs are significantly more common in women than in men.Can I get a UTI from a vibrator?
Like any sexual activity, bowel bacteria can get on the vibrator and contaminate the urethra. If you use a vibrator, make sure you wash it with soap and water before putting a vibrator that’s been near your anus up near your clitoris, which is very close to the urethra.If I have a UTI, can I still have sex?
If you feel like it, sister, and you’re being treated, go for it! Chances are that sex will be very uncomfortable while you have a UTI, but it’s unlikely to make it worse if you’re already being treated.I think I have a UTI and I still have antibiotics left in medicine cabinet. Is it okay to take them, or do I need to call my doctor?
Many antibiotics do not work for urinary tract infections. And remember that antibiotics expire. If you think you have a UTI, you’re better off calling your doctor. Often, what people think is a UTI is actually something else. If you get frequent UTIs and have seen the doctor before to confirm that it is, indeed, a UTI, you can ask your doctor to prescribe refills of your antibiotic, so you’re all set if you get another one.I keep getting UTIs but antibiotics don’t help. What’s going on?
Have the UTIs all been confirmed UTIs? Often, if antibiotics don’t help relieve the symptoms of frequency and dysuria, the diagnosis is something else. The most common condition people confuse with UTI is interstitial cystitis, inflammation of the bladder unrelated to bacteria. If you think you have a UTI but antibiotics are not helping, see your doctor.
Fear not– as long as you catch them early, UTIs tend to be more of a nuisance than a serious health threat, but they can seriously undermine your quality of life, so it’s good to be informed. Be sure to Own your Health by educating yourself, taking precautions, and being smart. Own that bladder and keep it healthy!
Dr. Lissa Rankin is an OB/GYN physician, an author, a nationally-represented professional artist, and the founder of Owning Pink, an online community committed to building authentic community and empowering women to get- and keep- their "mojo". Owning Pink is all about owning all the facets of what makes you whole- your health, your sexuality, your spirituality, your creativity, your career, your relationships, the planet, and YOU. Dr. Rankin is currently redefining women’s health at the Owning Pink Center, her practice in Mill Valley, California. She is the author of the forthcoming What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin's Press, September 2010).