Urinary tract infections
Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now
You gotta go. Bad. You feel burning all the way up into your pelvis, and you are sure that you won't be able to hold your urine. Sweat beads your forehead as you sprint to the nearest bathroom. Once there, you finally get to go . . . and three drops burn their way painfully out. You ball your hand into a fist, tears burning in your eyes from the pain. You hardly went anything, but you would have sworn that you had to go a whole ocean's worth just a second ago. What's going on here?
You have a urinary tract infection, also called a UTI. It is a common infection of the system that disposes of the urine in your body, and it can cause pain and urinary frequency that can drive you up a wall. Although the symptoms are alarming, most UTIs are harmless. However, left untreated, they can lead to permanent kidney problems. You should really see a doctor if you are having symptoms that make you suspect a urinary tract infection.
Just what is a urinary tract: no, it has nothing to do with a train
The urinary tract is responsible for filtering your blood, removing waste, and producing urine. This system includes two kidneys, two ureters, a bladder, and a urethra. Your kidneys are located in the middle of your back, just below your rib cage, and are connected to your bladder by the tube-like ureters. These tubes have a one-way valve that keeps urine and bacteria from flowing backward into the kidneys, but they are not foolproof. Your kidneys can become infected if the lower urinary tract infection does not get treated. Your bladder, which holds the urine, and urethra, which is the opening to the bladder, are the common sites for UTIs. This is because they are close to the outside of the body and are more prone to bacteria entering from the vagina, anus, or any other source.
UTI CSI: causes, symptoms, and treatments
The most common cause of UTIs is the bacteria that lives in the bowel, Escherichia coli. Although there are the valves in the ureters to help prevent bacteria from entering the kidneys, the act of urinating itself is cleansing, and the prostate releases a substance to kill of microbes, the bacteria still manages to infect the urinary tract and cause symptoms. As most women know, the most common symptoms are a painful, urgent need to empty the bladder. Once you empty it, though, hardly any urine is present. Often, incontinence is a side effect. In some cases when the infection has reached the kidneys or prostate, a fever may be present. The urine itself may appear dark, cloudy, or have a foul smell. Sometimes, you can even experience back pain below the ribs where the kidneys are located. Treatment for UTIs is simple: a course of antibiotics usually does the trick. However, with recurrent infections, longer courses of antibiotics may be necessary to completely kill off the bacteria.
An ounce of prevention: how to keep utis at bay
You can do many things to help keep your urinary tract free of bacteria and prevent infection. You can drink lots of fluid, preferably water, to flush your kidneys and use the normal cleansing power of urine to keep your urinary tract clean. You also should not hold your urine for very long because this encourages the growth of bacteria. When you feel the urge to go, satisfy it. Women should urinate after sex to help flush away harmful bacteria, and perhaps drink a glass of water, as well. Cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes are the preferred clothing for preventing UTIs because tight clothes and nylon hold moisture against the skin. This encourages the growth of bacteria. Finally, women should wipe themselves from front to back to avoid getting bowel bacteria into the urethra.
- National Kidney and Urological Disease Information Clearinghouse; Urinary Tract Infection in Adults; November 2011
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