Urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria in the urinary tract overgrow or otherwise cause unpleasant symptoms. This is different to recurrent or chronic UTI, which is a more advanced problem (that seems the same at face value).

The infection causes inflammation of the delicate lining of the urethra and bladder, resulting in symptoms. Cystitis is the name of the infection when the infection travels upwards to the bladder.

The urethra, the bladder and the kidneys

  • Your urethra is connected to your bladder
  • Your bladder is connected to your kidneys by skinny little spaghetti-sized tubes called the ureters
  • Your kidneys filter your blood, turn wastes into uric acid (the yellow colour), and then water it down to make urine, the same way you make lemonade on a hot summer’s day
  • The urine fills up your bladder, which eventually you feel as the urge to pee, and every so often you are compelled to let it out using your urethra to deliver it outside of your body
  • That is, you urinate.

Despite this being a pretty nifty way to get rid of wastes, your urethra can be prone to infections because it’s so close to the outside world, including your anus. Women are 50 times more likely than men to get UTIs.

UTIs need to be treated as soon as they come up because they can cause damage to your urethra, bladder and kidneys, with infection spreading up the tubes and beyond. How you go about a one-off UTI is largely up to you, but you should know a few things first.

Things to know when treating a UTI

  • Current antibiotic regimes are not considered sufficient to fully clear a UTI all the time
  • This may result in recurrences and the development of chronic UTI (you thought the one UTI was bad! Chronic UTI is the worst.)
  • You may like to try home remedies for a UTI, but know when to quit and go to the doctor

How did I get a UTI?

You don’t ‘catch’ a UTI; it develops. There are some situations whereby a messy sexual encounter may spread bacteria from the anus, which can cause a UTI.

Your susceptibility is the part that needs addressing, along with your sexual hygiene practices if they could use improvements. See the page on good vaginal health for more information on how to stay clean while you are getting dirty.

Symptoms of urinary tract infection

  • Burning and stinging when urinating
  • Urge to urinate, despite not much urine coming out
  • Urinary frequency
  • Can worsen to involve blood in the urine
  • Infection can move up to kidneys
  • Urethral pain
  • Bladder pain

The burn and urge to urinate a lot comes from your acidic urine hitting your inflamed flesh, triggering the unpleasant and painful symptoms. The microbes also cause your cells to be unhappy, so inflammation occurs as your body tries to rid itself of the bacteria.

Biofilm in recurrent UTI

A biofilm is a sort of matrix produced by microbes that protects them from treatments, like a raincoat protects us from the rain. Biofilms are everywhere, and many biofilms are healthy, but when it comes to chronic UTI, biofilms are not your friend.

Biofilms mean that the deeper well of bacteria hiding in your urethra are not touched by treatments, but the planktonic (free floating) bacteria are.

Treating a UTI at home

Treating a UTI at home is relatively easy, but there are a few tricks to the trade. Anyon who has been unfortunate enough to suffer recurrent UTIs will have their go-to strategies the moment they feel an infection coming on, but if this is your first time, welcome to hell!

Learning how to cure your UTIs at home without antibiotics is invaluable, since frequent UTIs mean frequent visits to the doctor (which costs money) to get antibiotics. These infections usually strike at inconvenient times and places – at night, and maybe when you are travelling away from home.

There are plenty of great options for non-antibiotic UTI treatments, so stock up, and get yourself set up to treat a UTI if it strikes.

Obviously if things feel like they are going haywire – pain, fever, kidney pain or blood in your urine – please go to your local emergency room or doctor. You will need to be checked to make sure you don’t have a kidney infection.

Learn more in Treating a UTI at home, where we detail your at-home options for acute infections, ranging from reflexology to herbal medicines.

Stats and facts on UTIs:

  • Women who get UTIs may have had many UTIs as a girl
  • You get more UTIs if you are a sexually active 20 to 40-year-old, or are past menopause
  • If you have had one UTI, you’ll probably get another one (biofilms)
  • 15 per cent of all women have UTI issues at least once a year
  • 2-4 per cent of women have high levels of bacteria in their urine, which might indicate an unrecognised UTI
  • 30 per cent of you will have a UTI at some point in your life

The groups who get the most UTIs are babies, pregnant women and the elderly, though if you have a catheter, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS or ongoing urological issues, UTIs may be a feature. But, they can happen to anyone anytime.

Does it matter which bacteria is causing a UTI?

Yes and no. An acute UTI (so, just the one, just happening now) may show a distinct bacteria in the urine, whereas chronic UTI may show up very few pathogens or normal-looking flora (‘mixed flora’). Research shows that actually, when proper DNA testing is used to figure out the flora of the urinary tract, the flora can look relatively normal. Read more about how dipsticks and cultures are useless at diagnosing UTIs in many cases.

Different bacteria are susceptible to different treatments. So many bacteria can cause a urinary tract infection, so while there are some very common offenders, it could be a vast array of microbes causing your problems, or the specific combination present. This is why proper PCR testing should be performed so you can get the right treatment quickly. The antibiotics prescribed are bacteria-dependent, as some bacteria are only susceptible to certain antibiotics or are antibiotic resistant.

Some common UTI-causing bacteria

References

  • Malone-Lee J, Urinary infections are complex and hard to treat, BMJ 2017;359:j4784
  • Zalmanovici TA, Green H, Paul M, Yaphe J, Leibovici L. Antimicrobial agents for treating uncomplicated urinary tract infection in women. CochraneDatabaseSystRev. 2010;(10):CD007182
Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

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