A doctor explains the science behind bladder infections.
You know what’s going on from the moment it strikes. There’s the feeling you need to pee – even though you just emptied your bladder.
When you do go, it burns, like you’re peeing out razor blades.While it hurts like mad, you’re actually only producing a small amount of urine. And then, as soon as you’ve flushed, there’s the urge to go again.
You might have pain just above your pelvic bone, and may even have blood in your urine (though you might not be able to see it). Yep, it seems like you’ve been struck by another dreaded urinary tract infection (UTI).
If you’re a sexually active female, chances are you’re well acquainted with the symptoms of a UTI. According to Better Health Channel, around one in two women experience at least one UTI in their life. That’s heaps more than men, with only around one in 20 of them experiencing a UTI in their lifetime.
So why do our male counterparts miss out on this unpleasant infection, while it seems to plague women so much more often? Let’s take a quick peek at anatomy to find out…
The tube that leads from the bladder to the outside is known as the urethra. In men, the urethra is around 15-20 cm long while in women it’s around 4 cm. So for an infection to travel up the urethra in a male and make it to the bladder, it has a lot further to go. For women, on the other hand, bacteria only has a short distance to travel to get inside.
Aside from being female, there are other factors that put people at greater risk of developing a UTI. For instance, people who have urinary catheters in place, those with diabetes and young babies are also at greater risk of infection.
But don’t stress; there are ways you can reduce the risk of developing a nasty UTI.
Let’s start with the basics:
- After peeing, make sure you wipe from front to back. If you wipe the other way around you risk bringing faecal matter into your urethra, which increases your risk of infection.
- When it comes to sex, avoid spermicide-containing products and always try to pee after intercourse.
- Staying hydrated is another way to avoid developing UTIs by ‘flushing’ your urinary system.
- When you feel the urge to pee, try to get to a bathroom soon, rather than holding on for too long. (Mind you, that doesn’t mean peeing ‘just in case’, which can train your bladder to go more often than necessary).
Cranberries may also help reduce your chances of developing a UTI, but the research isn’t clear-cut.
If you think you have a UTI, head straight to your GP. He or she will test your urine and advise whether you need antibiotics and, if you do, which one to use. Don’t start antibiotics without seeing your doctor first as this can breed antibiotic resistance.
It’s important to treat UTIs early, to prevent the infection from spreading up the urinary tract to the kidneys, where it can cause a much more severe infection and possible complications. Symptoms of a kidney infection (pyelonephritis) can include fever, chills and low back pain. If you have a UTI and develop any of these symptoms, seek medical help asap.
Drinks that neutralise your urine (like Ural sachets, which are added to water) can help make urinating less painful. But avoid soft drinks and juices and drink plenty of water instead.
Sure, you probably want to avoid filling your bladder if you have a UTI (because you want to avoid the discomfort that comes with peeing), but it’s important to stay hydrated.
While there are ways you can reduce your chances of developing a UTI, the truth is that women are more likely to get these types of infections than men.
Just another ‘perk’ of being female… Sigh.