Most women will experience a urinary tract infection, or UTI, during their lifetime. Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria getting into the urethra. While these can be painful or uncomfortable, they are treatable with antibiotics.
Every year, millions of people around the globe experience urinary tract infections (UTIs). Women are at a higher risk of developing UTIs compared to men due to their shorter urethras (tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Having a shorter urethra allows bacteria to reach the bladder more easily. Nearly half of all women will experience at least one UTI in their lifetime.
UTIs can develop when bacteria enter the urethra and infect the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, bladder, ureters (tube between the kidneys and bladder) and urethra. The most common type of UTI is a bladder infection (cystitis). Risk factors for UTIs may include a weakened immune system, advanced age, pregnancy, sexual activity, urinary tract problems (e.g. kidney stones) and the use of a catheter. Fortunately, urinary tract infections are treatable with antibiotics.
Treatment for Urinary Tract Infections
UTIs are often diagnosed based on a person’s reported symptoms, which may include pain or burning during urination, frequent urination and urgency. A healthcare professional may diagnose a UTI with the help of a urinalysis, a test that involves checking a urine sample for the presence of bacteria or any irregularities.
The most common treatment for urinary tract infections is a course of antibiotics, which can target the infection-causing bacteria. There are several types of antibiotics, and a healthcare provider will choose one based on the symptoms, severity and cause of the infection.
Below are some commonly prescribed antibiotics and their descriptions.
Trimethoprim/Sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim®): This combination antibiotic is effective in treating a range of bacterial infections, including UTIs. It works by stopping the bacteria's growth, allowing the body's immune system to get rid of the infection. Bactrim® is an example of a brand name for this combination antibiotic.
Nitrofurantoin (Macrobid®, Macrodantin®): Nitrofurantoin is a nitrofuran antibiotic used to treat UTIs. It interferes with the bacteria's ability to create important proteins needed for growth, leading to the bacteria's death. Macrobid® and Macrodantin® are example brand names for nitrofurantoin.
Fosfomycin (Monurol®): Fosfomycin is an antibiotic that works by blocking the production of the bacterial cell wall, which is needed for survival. Monurol® is a brand name of fosfomycin. It is a single-dose treatment.
Ciprofloxacin (Cipro®): Ciprofloxacin is part of a class of drugs called fluoroquinolones, which are powerful antibiotics effective against a broad spectrum of bacteria, including those that cause UTIs. Cipro® is an example brand name of fluoroquinolones. Fluoroquinolones work by stopping the bacteria's growth. This type of antibiotic is usually reserved for more serious infections or for people who cannot take other types of antibiotics.
Cephalexin: Cephalexin is an antibiotic that belongs to the class of drugs known as cephalosporins. It works by disrupting the growth of bacterial cell walls, thus causing the bacteria to die.
A healthcare provider can determine the most appropriate antibiotic based on the type of bacteria causing the infection. Antibiotics should not be taken without guidance from a healthcare provider, as incorrect or inappropriate use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance and a more severe infection.
In addition to antibiotics, over-the-counter pain relievers may be recommended to relieve discomfort or pain associated with the UTI. Drinking plenty of water may help in speeding up the recovery process by flushing out the bacteria from the urinary system. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they may irritate the bladder.
Urinary tract infections can be an uncomfortable experience, but there are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of developing a UTI. By maintaining proper hygiene and practicing healthy urinary habits, you may be able to reduce your risk of an infection. Some key prevention strategies may include:
- Wiping front to back after using the bathroom to avoid spreading bacteria
- Cleansing the genital area with mild soap and warm water before and after sex
- Urinating immediately after sex to help flush out bacteria
- Staying well-hydrated to promote regular urination and flush out bacteria
- Avoiding harsh cleansers or scented soaps that may irritate the urethra
- Wearing breathable, cotton underwear to help keep the genital area dry
By following these simple yet effective strategies, you may be able to help prevent UTIs and maintain optimal urinary health.