Urinary tract infection: causes, symptoms, how to avoid it?

Urinary tract infection: causes, symptoms, how to avoid it?

Urinary tract infections, mycosis, vaginosis, vaginitis... So many gynaecological ailments that can interfere with your daily life as a woman. If menstrual briefs can help care for your vulva and intimate flora, discover our other tips for avoiding urinary tract infections and cystitis!

What is a urinary tract infection?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common, especially in women, where it is estimated that one in two women will be affected by a UTI during her lifetime.

Urinary tract infection is an infection that can affect one or more parts of the urinary system, i.e. :

  • Kidneys: filter blood and eliminate waste products. In general, they play an important role in regulating body fluids.
  • The ureters: small ducts that transmit urine between the kidneys and the bladder.
  • The bladder: stores urine.
  • Urethra: duct connecting the bladder to the vulva through which urine is expelled.

There are 3 types of urinary tract infection, depending on the location of the infection:

  • Infectious cystitis: caused by the Escherichia coli bacterium (found mainly in the anal area), which can be found in urine during a urinary tract infection. It's the most common urinary infection, and mostly affects women. It corresponds to an inflammation of the bladder due to the proliferation of this bacterium once it has passed up the urethra. It also leads to inflammation of the urethra, known as urethritis. 
  • Infectious urethritis: when the infection only affects the urethra. This can be the cause of an STI, and this form of urinary infection particularly affects men.
  • Pyelonephritis: this is the most serious urinary tract infection, since it affects the kidneys and is usually caused by bacteria. In fact, pyelonephritis can be the consequence of untreated cystitis: bacteria ascend from the bladder to the kidneys and proliferate. Logically, as cystitis more often affects women, so too does pyelonephritis, which more often affects pregnant women, but also children.

Generally speaking, urinary tract infections depend on a person's age and sex. Women are more prone to urinary tract infections because their anatomy differs from that of men. Women's urethra is shorter than men's, making it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder. What's more, the rectum is also closer to the urinary meatus in women, leading in some cases - especially if you don't wipe from front to back - to urinary tract infections caused by intestinal bacteria. Around 2% to 3% of adult women report cystitis every year. Recurrent urinary tract infections occur at least 3 times a year.

What factors increase the risk of developing a urinary tract infection?

Most urinary tract infections are caused by the proliferation of the intestinal bacteria Escherichia coli, present in large quantities around the anus.

There are several causes of lcystitis, including :

  • Sexual intercourse, especially not urinating afterwards. The stress of intercourse can also contribute to urinary tract infections.
  • Swipe from back to front (this brings bacteria from the anus to the urethra)
  • A urethra that's too short (women's urethra is much shorter than men's, making it easier for germs to pass between the anal orifice and the urethra, which is why women are more prone to urinary tract infections).
  • Holding back urine
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Intimate hygiene, whether infrequent or too frequent, can unbalance the microbiota.
  • The use of spermicides which will unbalance the vaginal flora
  • Keeping a wet bathing suit on for too long (this can also lead to fungal infections)
  • The menopause: during the menopause, estrogen levels drop, and this deficiency favors the appearance of urinary tract infections. What's more, in older women, genital and urinary prolapse means that the bladder's contents cannot be completely evacuated, which increases the risk of infection. Urinary incontinence also favours cystitis.
  • Pregnancy: this period of hormonal upheaval encourages the onset of urinary tract infections. Similarly, the compression of the bladder by the abdomen encourages urine stagnation.
  • Digestive problems: in particular constipation, which once again leads to stagnant urine and urinary tract infections.

What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?

The symptoms of a urinary tract infection are :

  • A very frequent feeling of having tourinate
  • Eliminate only small quantities of urine when you go to the toilet
  • Urinating causes pain and burning sensations
  • Urine may look cloudy and have an unpleasant odour
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Sometimes blood in the urine. Urinary tract infections can cause bleeding.
  • Fever depending on type of UTI
  • Sometimes discomfort

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, we advise you to consult a doctor.

What to do about recurrent urinary tract infections? What is the difference with recurrent infections? 

The difference between recurrent and repeated infections lies in their frequency: an infection is considered recurrent if it occurs at least 4 times in lthe space of 12 months. 

Recurrent urinary tract infections are common at the start of sexual life, as the body takes some time to develop the antibodies needed to prevent cystitis. All urinary tract infections, whether recurrent or acute, result from the presence of germs from the digestive tract that have managed to move into the urinary tract. Recurrent infections can also be caused by a reservoir of bacteria in the genital area.

However, if urinary tract infections persist too long, your doctor may prescribe a urine analysis. This will help identify the gene responsible for the infection. 

What about interstitial cystitis?

Be careful not to confuse urinary tract infection with interstitial cystitis (also known as painful bladder syndrome), which causes more or less the same symptoms, except that the latter is not due to bacteria but to a rare inflammatory disease of the bladder. For more information, see your doctor, who will be able to diagnose your condition and prescribe any necessary tests.

Some STIs, such as chlamydial or gonococcal infections, can also cause symptoms similar to those of a UTI. An STI/STD screening may be important in such cases. 

Urinary tract infections during pregnancy: what advice is there and how can they be avoided?

Urinary tract infections are common during pregnancy. This is because the physical changes that occur during this period cause the uterus to swell, putting pressure on the bladder and urinary tract. The need to urinate is therefore more frequent. However, due to the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy, some women experience a drop in bladder tone, making it more difficult to expel all their urine. Stagnant urine in the bladder is fertile ground for the proliferation and development of bacteria.

During pregnancy, some women may develop gestational diabetes. This can lead to urinary tract infections.

Generally speaking, women who were prone to urinary tract infections before pregnancy will, by definition, be at greater risk of developing them during pregnancy. The same applies to women with diabetes, since urine contains sugar, which favours bacterial growth.

To prevent urinary tract infections, the basic advice is to drink plenty of water (at least 2l per day) and go to the toilet regularly. Coffee and spices should be limited, as they can irritate the bladder.

If you have the slightest symptom of a urinary tract infection, consult your doctor. Untreated urinary tract infections in pregnant women can quickly turn into kidney infections, or pyelonephritis. This infection can lead to premature delivery, fetal growth retardation and even fetal infection. 

Don't panic, there are antibiotic treatments available for urinary tract infections during pregnancy.

Is it possible for an infant to have a urinary tract infection?

Urinary tract infections are also common in infants. However, the symptoms are slightly different. The typical signs of a urinary infection (burning on urination, frequent urination, etc.) are not present in infants. Fever (39-40°), without any other symptoms, is the sign that should alert you to the presence of a UTI. However, this fever symptom is not systematic! Digestive symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea) can also be a sign of infection. You may also notice a foul odor emanating from your baby's urine.

Because of the lack of symptoms, urinary tract infections in infants can quickly become kidney infections.

When the infection reaches the kidneys, the baby often presents with a high fever, chills and a generally altered state of health. Consult a paediatrician if you notice signs like these.

Treatment is by oral antibiotics for urinary tract infections, and injections for pyelonephritis. Once treatment has been completed, a follow-up urinalysis should be performed.

The most common causes of urinary tract infections in infants are urinary tract anomalies or vesico-ureteral reflux. The latter is very common in children. These malformations can be treated surgically, so when a urinary tract infection occurs in a young child (2-3 years), a renal and bladder ultrasound should be performed in addition to a urinalysis.

Urinary tract infection after sex: how to avoid it?

It's common to get a urinary tract infection after sex. It's called post-coital cystitis. Why does it happen? First of all, women are more prone to UTIs after intercourse, because the urethra is shorter in women, and therefore closer to the anus. The proliferation of germs and bacteria is therefore favored by friction and penetration. Of course, not all women systematically develop UTIs after intercourse! It also depends on the balance of your vaginal microbiota!

Urinary tract infections are most often caused by contamination of the urethra by the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli. This bacterium is benign, provided the intestinal flora is balanced. If the intestinal flora is out of balance, the bacteria can become harmful, localizing in the bladder and causing urinary tract infection. 

An unbalanced microbiota can be caused by taking too many antibiotics (which can create a vicious circle, as some women can only recover from a UTI by taking antibiotics) or by a poor diet (too low in fiber, for example).

To avoid urinary tract infections after intercourse, it's essential to urinate immediately, or at least as soon as possible afterwards. The act of urinating will help to evacuate any bacteria that may have made their way up the urethra. Make sure you wipe from front to back and not the other way round! You should also drink plenty of water after intercourse, so that you can urinate again and flush out any bacteria. 

Urinary tract infections are also more common at the start of sexual life, as it takes time for antibodies to develop along the lurethra.  

Urinary tract infection: treatment options Natural cystitis treatments

Treatments for cystitis are usually fosfomycin (a single-dose antibiotic) or pivmecillinam, which is taken for 5 days. However, these treatments can upset the vaginal microbiota. An unbalanced microbiota is a risk factor for the development of cystitis. After taking one or more antibiotic treatments, you can take probiotics or food supplements to help rebalance the microbiota. Ask your doctor for more information. 

On the other hand, it is possible to prevent the onset of cystitis and urinary tract infections with natural products:

The most basic and simple tip: drink enough water. Water will enable you to urinate more frequently, thus eliminating any bacteria present in the bladder or urethra.

Cranberry is also known to help prevent cystitis. It can be taken as juice, capsule or dietary supplement.

There are also anti-infectious essential oils, such as cinnamon, thyme and savory. Use essential oils as soon as the first symptoms appear, by adding 2 drops of 2 different oils to a sugar cube or neutral tablet, for example. You can take this 3 to 4 times a day, for 1 week. Normally, you should feel relief from symptoms within 48 hours.

Homeopathy: several homeopathic capsules are available to relieve urinary tract infections: 

  • Cantharis 5 CH, take 3 granules every 30 minutes
  • Pareiva brava 4 or 5 CH, also 3 granules, taken every 30 minutes
  • Finally, Colibacillinum 7 CH (6 granules once a week for several months) will prevent lurinary tract infection (to avoid getting one). 
  • If lhe origin of the cystitis is rather psychological (stress), Stapgtsagrua 15 CH will be suitable.

In any case, no matter what treatments or tricks you adopt, if the infection persists, it's imperative that you consult your doctor. Urinary tract infections are common and treatable, but left untreated, they can lead to complications.

Can a urinary infection lead to complications?

If left untreated, the urinary tract infection can travel up through the ureter to the kidneys - this is known as pyelonephritis. In this case, you need emergency treatment. In very rare cases, a urinary tract infection can lead to septicemia or kidney failure. So if, in addition to the classic symptoms of a urinary tract infection, you also experience a fever, we recommend that you consult your doctor as soon as possible.

The risk of complications is greater during pregnancy, with urinary tract malformations, kidney or bladder stones, or in cases of diabetes.

Can men get urinary tract infections?

Yes, men can be affected by UTIs, but it's much rarer because the anatomy is different. The symptoms of UTIs in men are the same as in women.

The difference between urinary tract infections in women and men is that in men, the infection can affect organs other than the bladder, such as the prostate, urethra, ureters and even kidneys.

What causes urinary tract infections in men?

As with women, UTIs are most often caused by bacteria in the urinary tract, including E.Coli. Men can contract a UTI after unprotected anal intercourse or if they have an uncircumcised penis. This encourages the passage of germs into the urinary meatus.

As in the case of women, a urine examination may be considered to determine the germs lresponsible for the infection. Antibiotics are then taken to treat the infection. Treatment may take a little longer than for women.

Is a urinary tract infection contagious? 

A urinary infection is not contagious! It's not an STI, and condoms don't change the risk of developing a UTI. It protects against STIs/STIs and pregnancy.

You can continue to have sex when you have a UTI, but beware: it may be painful or unpleasant. We still recommend that you finish your UTI treatment before resuming sexual activity.

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The information contained in the articles on www-elia-lingerie.com is general information only. Although reviewed by health professionals, this information is not error-free, does not constitute health advice or consultation, and is not intended to provide a diagnosis or suggest a course of treatment. Under no circumstances may this information be used as a substitute for medical advice or consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have any questions, please consult your doctor.