Urinary tract infection, the burning truth

Urinary Tract Infection – The burning truth

If you have never experienced the intense, burning of a thousand suns inside of you and the sheer inconvenience of constantly running to the loo, then count yourself lucky! Many plans for a fun night out or a diligent day at work have been foiled by the oldest excuse in the book…the Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).

Although the exact South African stats on UTI’s are unknown, I can guarantee you that everyone at least knows one woman who has experienced it in their lifetime. Unfortunately, 25-30% of those women will develop recurrent infections. Bummer!

Now that we have established how common it is, onto the next question…

What IS a “Urinary Tract Infection” (UTI)?

Basically, it’s an infection in any area of your Urinary Tract. I’m sure your doctor might have thrown some lingo around. But in a nutshell, these names are based on where the infection is located:

Cystitis – a.k.a lower UTI, is the most commonly occurring one. Usually referring to inflammation and infection of the bladder
Urethritis – Inflammation of the urethra (the pipe leading to the pee hole). Possibly caused by catheterization or through sexual intercourse
Pyelonephritis – a.k.a upper UTI. Referring to Infection of the kidneys. Less common but can be more serious.

To break it down even further, UTI’s can be complicated and uncomplicated:

Uncomplicated UTI’s happen in healthy individuals with no abnormalities in the urinary tract (neurological or structural).
Complicated UTIs occur in a urinary tract that is already compromised, like in the case of kidney failure and even in pregnancy.

I guess this difference is important to know as it can affect the type and success of the treatment.

What Causes a UTI?

UTI’s are caused by different bacteria, but mostly are caused by the normal bacteria of the intestines called E.coli. If found in the gut, E.coli would be the good guys, but as soon as they venture out of the gut, up the urethra and into the bladder, they quickly grow and can cause an infection. This is why wiping front to back is vital to prevent these bacteria from spreading to the bladder.

Even though UTI’s can occur in men, women AND children, us women are more at risk. (As if we didn’t have enough to deal with). There are 2 main reasons for this:
Compared to men, our urethra’s (pee pipes) are much shorter, so it’s quicker and easier for bacteria to reach our bladders
Our anuses are rather close to our vulvas.

Other Risk factors

Besides just being a women, there are other risk factors that makes us more prone to infection:
Not enough water intake
Not emptying your bladder regularly
Poor hygiene
Bladder or kidney stones
Menopause- Decreased oestrogen causes decrease protective vaginal flora
Diabetes Mellitus
Birth defects
Chemicals (in soaps and beauty products)
Use of a catheter
Frequent sexual intercourse (a.k.a “Honeymoon Cystitis”)
A new sexual partner in the last year
Using a diaphragm or spermicide

So what are the symptoms?

Constant need to pee (Frequency)
Feeling like your bladder is full, but only a few painful droplets trickle out
Feeling like you need to wee now (Urgency)
Stinging or burning while taking a wee (Dysuria)
Inability to completely empty your bladder
Leaking (Incontinence)
cloudy, smelly urine
Blood in the urine (Haematuria)
Abdominal and/or lower back pain
Fever, chills, vomiting and nausea (in severe kidney infections)

Mild uncomplicated UTI’s can go away after 2-3 days with or without treatment. However, if persistent symptoms are left untreated, it can spread to the kidneys and may cause permanent damage.

At what point should I see a Doctor?

All men and children should consult a doctor at the first onset
If there is blood in your urine
Pregnant females
Previous history of kidney stones or any other Renal (kidney) surgery
Severe pain

Needles to say, but should be said anyway, be sure to consult your doctor if your symptoms persist, worsen or feel like it’s taking over your life.

What next?

So you have a UTI, what can you do?
In persistent and complex cases, seeking advice from a medical practitioner is the safest option, but for those of you who want to first try some home remedies.

Check out my follow up post on tips for diagnosing,preventing and treating UTI’s


Urinary tract infections in women. Jacky van Schoor. SA Pharmaceutical Journal, Volume 82, Issue 7, Jan 2015, p. 29 – 32
‘Urinary Tract Infection’ and the Microbiome. Thomas E. Finucane. The American Journal of Medicine, Vol 130, No 3, March 2017
Urinary tract infections:Epidemiology,mechanisms of infection and treatment options. Ana L.Flores-Mireles*, Jennifer N.Walker*, Michael Caparon and Scott J.Hultgren. Nature Reviews Microbiology. 8 April 2015

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