Bacteria that occur naturally in the digestive system and the bowel cause urinary tract infections (UTIs). An infection can infiltrate the urethra, bladder (cystitis) and kidney (pyelonephritis) if there is any contamination from this area, or if there is an issue that affects the release of urine from the bladder.
Nearly 30% of women will have had a symptomatic UTI by age 24, and about half of all women will experience a UTI during their lifetime, but many suffer continued infections. While medication can treat an infection, if the underlying causes are not addressed, you might have trouble with repeated infections.
Dr Hugo van der Merwe, an urologist at The Urology Hospital Pretoria, explains that a chronic (or repeated) UTI can be classified as either persistent, or recurrent. “A persistent, or unresolved UTI is one caused by the same organism. This may be the result of incomplete treatment of the initial infection or due to anatomical or physiological defects in the urinary system,” he says. “A recurring UTI occurs after documented, successful resolution of an infection.”
To avoid re-infection, try these lifestyle tips…
1. Drink plenty of fluids
The more you drink, the more you’ll urinate. This regular flow of fluid flushes out bacteria that may have infiltrated your urinary tract, preventing them from infecting your system. Don’t hold onto that wee either – frequent toilet trips are important to keep that natural cleansing ritual working optimally. Hint: urinating after sex will also help.
Caffeine and alcohol also irritate the bladder, so either give these up or compensate by drinking more water.
2. Practise healthy toilet habits
Because the bacteria that cause UTIs occur naturally in the digestive tract, it’s crucial you avoid faecal matter from coming into contact with your vaginal area. This means wiping from front to back after toileting, washing your hands with soap after each trip to the loo, and washing your genitals daily using a mild soap. (Get your partner to do the same!) Washing your genitals before all intimate contact will also help.
3. Don’t get irritated!
In this case, we’re talking about the urethra, the part of your body where you excrete urine. By irritating this area, you put pressure on the bladder or infect it with a bacteria that causes infection. Make these changes to your sex life: avoid lengthy direct stimulation to the clitoris, lubricate your vagina well before penetration and avoid rear-entry positions or prolonged sexual encounters.
Some women find that tampon use also irritates their urethras, so in this case switch to pads. Wearing tight clothing like jeans can have the same effect.
4. Change your birth control
Some research indicates that oral contraceptives can increase your risk of UTI infections. Although this is not conclusive, it is known that condoms that are not sufficiently lubricated or contain dyes can cause irritation.
5. Look at your diet
Do you eat lots of refined sugars and starches? Refined carbohydrates like pasta and sugary foods may set you up for a UTI by feeding bacteria. Cut these out, and consider supplements that can support your system.
Unsweetened cranberry juice and Vitamin C supplements can make your urine more acidic which can help prevent UTIs, and the hippuric acid in cranberries is also thought to help prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder.
Constipation can also set you up for an infection, so a good fluid intake and a healthy, fibre-rich diet are also important.
6. Take preventative drugs
Regular antibiotic use often required to treat UTIs is not healthy for you in the long-term and can actually increase your changes of infection by killing the “good” bacteria that maintain a healthy balance in your vagina and gut.
There are preventative medications that you can take instead, including some that you take directly after sex to reduce your chances of infection. Discuss these with your Clicks pharmacist.
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