Urinary Tract Infections: What you need to know

Are you among the millions of people who suffer from recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI) each year? 

Even if they’re relatively infrequent, UTIs can be uncomfortable and distressing experiences, and if left untreated, can lead to severe complications in the kidneys. Fortunately, there are a number of simple ways to prevent UTIs from recurring.

What is a urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection of the urinary system. UTIs are most likely to occur in the urethra and/or bladder. 

A UTI may affect any part of the urinary tract, which can result in:

Urethritis: Inflammation of the urethra – the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

Cystitis: Inflammation of the bladder, resulting from germs that have spread up from the urethra.

Pyelonephritis: A sudden and severe kidney infection, resulting in swelling. It may also cause permanent damage to the kidneys. 

Abscess: A collection of pus that builds up along the urinary tract. 

What causes urinary tract infections? 

Most UTIs are caused by the spread of bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract to the urethra. Once these bacteria have reached the urinary tract, they will multiply and cause an infection. The most common culprit is the E. coli bacteria, which normally live in the intestines. 

What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?

The most common symptoms of a urinary tract infection include: 

  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • A strong and frequent urge to urinate 
  • Pressure in your lower abdomen
  • Urine that appears cloudy
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Feelings of confusion, fatigue, or weakness
  • Pelvic pain – which is especially common in women

Woman with stomach abdomen pain with stomach ache isolated on white wall

How can you treat a urinary tract infection?

How you go about treating a UTI will depend on the cause of the infection. Because UTIs are mainly caused by bacteria, the most effective treatment method is antibiotics. However, there is now some caution around the overuse of antibiotics. Viral UTIs, on the other hand, are typically treated with antiviral medication – while fungal UTIs are treated with antifungal medications. 

Cranberry and Vitamin C supplements have also been shown to assist in speeding up the recovery time and aiding in symptom management. Cranberries contain chemical compounds called proanthocyanidins, (PACs) which prevent E. coli bacteria from sticking to the tissue lining of the urethra and bladder –  reducing the risk of developing a UTI. Cranberry (PACs) based supplements can also be used as a UTI preventative or maintenance program. 

If you have a urinary tract infection, schedule an appointment with your health professional. If your UTI symptoms do not improve after a few days of treatment, or continue after you have finished your course of medication, inform your doctor immediately. 

Can I prevent urinary tract infections?

While there are a number of ways to prevent recurring urinary tract infections, the simplest and most effective way is to maintain good hygiene. 

In addition to this, ensure that you drink plenty of fluids, wipe from front to back after using the toilet, and avoid holding urine for long periods of time. 

If you experience recurring UTIs, or you’re simply looking to maintain good urinary tract health, try introducing  a cranberry supplement into your diet.