What you can do for a UTI during pregnancy

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more common during pregnancy – and can cause serious complications. Here’s how to prevent them.

12 December 2014
by Wendy Maritz
A urinary tract infection (UTI) affects the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys (where urine is produced), the ureters (the tubes that transport the urine to the bladder), the bladder itself, and the urethra (the tube that removes the urine from your body).

What causes UTIs?

Cape Town obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Sascha Edelstein explains that infection occurs when “organisms (bacteria), which most commonly come from faecal matter and are transmitted during sexual intercourse, move from the vagina along the urethra into the bladder. A kidney infection can then occur when a bladder infection spreads via the ureter to the kidney,” he explains.

Symptoms of a bladder infection, also known as cystitis, include:

  • an urgent need to urinate
  • more frequent urination
  • pain when urinating
  • pain above the pubic bone.

Symptoms of a kidney infection, also known as pyelonephritis, include:

  • all of the above symptoms
  • loin pain
  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea and vomiting.

UTIs and pregnancy

There’s unfortunately an increased risk of developing cystitis during pregnancy, says Dr Edelstein. “Increased vaginal secretions and a change in vaginal pH predisposes pregnant women to vaginal infections that can spread to the bladder,” he explains. “The pregnancy hormone, progesterone, causes the relaxation of smooth muscles, including the urethra, making emptying the bladder – known as voiding – less efficient. The growing pregnancy places pressure on the bladder, also affecting this voiding. The remaining urine is thus a favourable environment for infection.”

It’s important to note that the ureters also have smooth muscles that are affected by progesterone, making kidney infections more common during pregnancy too.

How to prevent UTIs during pregnancy

Dr Edelstein advises the following:

  1. Increase fluid intake to dilute the urine and ensure more frequent urination
  2. Employ double urination to ensure no urine is left in the bladder
  3. Urinate after sexual intercourse
  4. After defecation, the perineum (the area between the anus and the scrotum in the male and between the anus and the vulva in the female) should be cleaned from front to back.

In conclusion, Dr Edelstein advises that pregnant women become aware of the symptoms associated with bladder and kidney infections, as both can lead to pre-term labour. More seriously, untreated kidney infection can lead to sepsis that can affect your other organs.

If you experience any symptoms, visit your healthcare practitioner. A urine analysis can pick up the presence of infection, after which the sample will be sent to a pathologist for a diagnosis to be confirmed. Your GP can then take the appropriate treatment action.

For more information, visit www.fertilityspecialist.co.za.

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