We’re going to kick things off with a few statistics: 60% of women will experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their lives. Further, at a ratio of 8:1, women are more likely than men to contract a UTI. (Not going to lie, this one seems pretty unfair to us.) Despite the fact that UTIs are among the most common infections in humans, we as women know surprisingly little about them - that is, until we get one. In the next few paragraphs, we’re getting to the bottom of the common misconception that we like to call “the cranberry myth,” as well as providing you with some much needed insight into UTIs. So if you’re someone who’s still throwing back cranberry juice cocktail after having sex in the hopes of preventing a UTI, this article is for you.
Time for a crash course in UTIs! First off, a urinary tract infection is an infection from microbes (teeny, tiny organisms that aren’t even visible with a microscope), that is primarily caused by bacteria. On some occasions, they can be caused by fungi or viruses, but in most instances, bacteria is the culprit. Now, a UTI can happen anywhere in what is referred to as the urinary tract. Unless you’re a doctor (or you happen to remember everything from high school biology), you probably didn’t know that the urinary tract is made up of the upper and lower tract. UTIs most commonly occur in the lower tract, which comprises the bladder and the urethra, but they can spread to the upper tract (the kidneys and ureters) in more severe cases.
Feel the Burn
How do you know if you have a UTI? Luckily, there are a whole list of symptoms to indicate not only whether you have a UTI, but where the UTI might be located. Again, lower tract UTIs are the most common and are less painful, whereas upper tract UTIs can potentially be fatal if the kidneys become infected (a condition called urosepsis). In addition, it’s worth noting that if left untreated, what starts out as a relatively harmless lower tract infection, could move into your upper tract and become life threatening. Thus, knowing the difference (and talking to your doctor as soon as you experience ANY of the below symptoms) is of the utmost importance.
Lower tract UTI symptoms include a burning sensation when you pee, increased urgency and frequency of urination without much urine, bloody, cloudy, cola-coloured, or strong-smelling urine, and pelvic pain. Meanwhile, upper tract UTI symptoms include aches and pain in your upper back and sides, chills, fever, vomiting, and nausea.
Think you have a UTI? Your doctor will test your urine for signs of an infection, and if one appears, they will most likely prescribe oral antibiotics and you’ll be good as new before you know it! If the UTI is more serious (of the upper tract variety), then a longer course of antibiotics, possibly involving intravenous antibiotic therapy, may be prescribed.
Sex = Bacteria
We hate to say it, but sexual intercourse, in addition to using condoms, spermicides, or diaphragms during sex, can increase a woman’s risk of getting a UTI. In all cases, it comes down to the spread of bacteria. The act of sex puts pressure on a woman’s urinary tract, which can result in bacteria moving from the anus to the bladder. Not to worry though, in most cases the body gets rid of this bacteria on its own within 24 hours. Meanwhile spermicides and non-lubricated condoms may cause skin irritation during intercourse, which can increase the chances of bacteria entering the urinary tract. Further, diaphragms can put pressure on the urethra, which can decrease the bladder’s emptying ability, leading to a UTI. This doesn’t mean you should avoid sex, it just means you should take proper precautions, such as using a water-based lubricant with condoms (try South sex H20), drinking plenty of water after sex, and maybe considering a different form of birth control if you’re prone to UTIs.
There are also a few non-sex-related UTI risk factors worth noting. For example, older, menopausal, and pregnant women are at an increased risk for UTIs. Those who have had a UTI previously, used urinary catheters, or have kidney stones, diabetes, or weakened immune systems are also more prone to infection.
The Cranberry Myth
Despite what your roommate may have told you in college, cranberry juice is not your UTI saviour. The basis of this misconception was formed by some (limited) scientific evidence that found cranberries to contain an active chemical known as A-type proanthocyanidins that could prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract. However, studies conducted in more recent years have been mixed. And ultimately, almost all of the science is unanimous in that the level of A-type proanthocyanidins found in cranberry juice cocktail or cranberry supplements is not nearly enough to prevent this build up of bacteria. However, if at this point you have a deep-set love of cranberry juice, we won’t deprive you, but we do recommend looking for a pure, unsweetened version.
Have yet to join the UTI club and hoping to delay your membership? Scientifically-proven preventative measures include drinking six to eight glasses of water per day and peeing as soon as the need arises. Whatever you do, don’t hold it in!
Comments will be approved before showing up.