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

Infection urinaire : causes, symptômes, comment l’éviter ?

Urinary infections, mycosis, vaginosis, vaginitis... So many gynecological conditions that can interfere with your daily life as a woman. If menstrual panties can help to take care of your vulva and intimate flora, discover our other advices to avoid urinary infections and cystitis!

What is a urinary infection?

Urinary tract infections are very common, especially in women where it is estimated that one out of two women will be affected by a urinary tract infection during her lifetime.

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

  • The kidneys: filter blood and eliminate waste. In general, they play an important role in the regulation of body fluids.
  • The ureters: Small channels that transmit urine between the kidneys and the bladder.
  • The bladder: which "stores" the urine.
  • Urethra: a duct that connects the bladder to the vulva and through which the urine is expelled.

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

  • Infectious cystitis: due to the Escherichia coli bacteria (bacteria present in particular at anal level) that can be found in the urine during a urinary infection. It is the most common urinary tract infection and affects mostly women. It corresponds to an inflammation of the bladder because of the proliferation of this bacteria after having gone up the urethra. It also causes inflammation of the urethra, called urethritis.
  • Infectious urethritis: when the infection affects only the urethra. This can be the cause of an STI, and this form of UTI is particularly common in men.
  • Pyelonephritis: this is the most serious urinary tract infection because it affects the kidneys and is most often caused by bacteria. Indeed, pyelonephritis can be the consequence of an untreated cystitis: the bacteria go up from the bladder to the kidneys and proliferate. Logically, since cystitis affects women more often, this is also the case for pyelonephritis, which affects pregnant women even more often, but also children.

In general, urinary tract infections depend on the age and sex of the person. They affect women more often because their anatomy is different from that of men. Women's urethra is shorter than men's, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder. In addition, the rectum is also closer to the urinary meatus in women, leading in some cases, especially if you do not wipe from front to back, to urinary tract infections due to intestinal bacteria. Thus, about 2% to 3% of adult women report having a cystitis each year. Recurrent urinary tract infections are defined as those that occur at least 3 times a year.

What factors increase the risk of developing a UTI?

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

Several causes are at the origin of a cystitis, among them, we find :

  • Sexual intercourse, including not urinating after sex. Stress related to sexual intercourse can also promote urinary tract infections.
  • Wiping from the back to the front (this brings bacteria from the anal area to the urethra)
  • A urethra that is too short (women have a much shorter urethra than men, so germs pass more easily between the anal orifice and the urethra, which is why they are largely affected by urinary infections)
  • Holding back from urinating
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Intimate hygiene that is rare or too frequent, which can unbalance the microbiota
  • The use of spermicide which will unbalance the vaginal flora
  • Keeping a bathing suit wet for too long (this can also create mycosis)
  • Menopause: during menopause, the estrogen level drops and this deficit favors the appearance of urinary tract infections. In addition, in older women, genital and urinary prolapse does not allow for the complete evacuation of the bladder's contents, which increases the risk of infection. Urinary incontinence also favors cystitis.
  • Pregnancy: this time of hormonal upheaval favors the occurrence of urinary tract infection. Also, the compression of the bladder by the belly favors the stagnation of urine
  • Digestive disorders: in particular constipation, which will once again lead to stagnation of urine and cause a urinary infection

What are the symptoms of a urinary infection?

The symptoms of a urinary infection are :

  • A very frequent feeling of having tourinating
  • Passing only small amounts of urine when you go to the bathroom
  • Urinating causes pain and burning sensations
  • Urine may look cloudy and smell bad
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Sometimes blood in the urine Urinary tract infections can cause bleeding.
  • Fever depending on the type of UTI
  • Sometimes discomfort

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

What to do about recurrent urinary tract infections? What's the difference between recurrent infections and recurring infections?

The difference between recurrent infections and repeated infections is in their frequency. An infection is considered recurrent if it occurs at least 4 times within 12 months.

Recurrent urinary tract infections are common at the beginning of sexual life, the body takes some time to develop the necessary antibodies 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. The recurrent nature of the infection can also be caused by a reservoir of bacteria present in the genitals.

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

What about interstitial cystitis?

Be careful not to confuse urinary tract infection and interstitial cystitis (also called painful bladder syndrome), which causes more or less the same symptoms, with the difference that it 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 you and prescribe the necessary tests if needed.

Some STIs such as chlamydia or gonorrhea can also cause symptoms similar to those of a UTI. An STI/STD screening may be important to do in this case.

Urinary tract infection during pregnancy: what advice should be given and how can it be avoided?

Urinary tract infections during pregnancy are common. Indeed, the physical changes that occur during this period cause the uterus to grow, which puts pressure on the bladder and the urinary tract. The urge to urinate is therefore more frequent. But, due to the hormonal change linked to pregnancy, in some women, the tone of the bladder decreases, which makes it more difficult to expel all the urine. Stagnant urine in the bladder is a fertile ground for the proliferation and development of bacteria.

During pregnancy, some women may have gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes 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 urinary tract infections during their pregnancy. The same is true for women with diabetes, since urine contains sugar that favors the growth of bacteria.

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

If you have any symptoms of a urinary tract infection, consult your doctor. Untreated urinary tract infections in pregnant women can very quickly become a kidney infection, i.e. pyelonephritis. This infection can cause premature delivery, fetal growth retardation and even fetal infection.

Don't panic, in case of urinary infection during pregnancy, adapted antibiotic treatments exist.

Is a urinary tract infection in an infant possible?

Urinary tract infections are also common in infants. However, the symptoms are a little different. Indeed, the typical signs of a urinary infection (burning during urination, frequent urge to urinate etc.) are not present in infants. Fever (39-40°) without any other symptoms is the sign that should alert to the presence of a urinary infection. Be careful, this fever symptom is not systematic! Digestive symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea) can also be a sign of an infection. You may also notice a bad smell coming from your baby's urine.

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

When the infection reaches the kidneys, the baby often has a high fever, chills and general ill health. Consult a pediatrician if you see signs like these.

Treatment is by oral antibiotics for urinary tract infections and by injection for pyelonephritis. After the end of the treatment, a control urine examination must be done.

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

Urinary tract infection after sexual intercourse: how to avoid it?

It is common to have a urinary tract infection after sexual intercourse. This is called post-coital cystitis. Why do you get it? First of all, it is important to know that women are more prone to urinary tract infections after sex because the urethra in women is shorter and therefore closer to the anus. The proliferation of germs and bacteria is therefore favored by friction and during penetration. Of course, not all women systematically develop a urinary infection after intercourse! It also depends on the balance of your vaginal microbiota!

Most of the time, it is the contamination of the urethra by the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli that causes urinary infections. This bacterium is benign, as long as the intestinal flora is balanced. If not, this bacteria can become harmful, localize in the bladder and cause a urinary infection.

An unbalanced microbiota can be due to taking too many antibiotics (which sometimes creates a vicious circle when we know that some women manage to cure their urinary tract infection only by taking antibiotics) or to a bad diet (too low in fiber for example).

To avoid urinary tract infections after sex, it is essential to urinate immediately or at least as soon as possible after sex. The fact of urinating will allow to evacuate the bacteria which could have gone up in the urethra. Be sure to wipe from the front to the back and not the other way around! Drink plenty of water after sex so that you can urinate again and get rid of the bacteria.

Urinary tract infections are also more common at the beginning of sexual life: it takes time for antibodies to develop along the urethra.

Urinary infection, which treatment? Natural treatments against cystitis

The treatments prescribed during a cystitis are most of the time fosfomycin (an antibiotic in only one dose) or pivmecillinam, which is taken during 5 days. However, these treatments can upset the vaginal microbiota. An unbalanced microbiota is a risk factor for developing cystitis. After taking one or more antibiotic treatments, you can take probiotics or food supplements that will help rebalance the microbiota. Contact your doctor to find out more.

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 advice to apply: drink enough water. Water will allow you to urinate more frequently and thus eliminate the bacteria present in the bladder or urethra.

The cranberry is also known to help prevent cystitis. You can consume it in juice, capsules or food supplements.

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

Homeopathy: there are several homeopathic capsules to relieve urinary tract infection:

  • Cantharis 5 CH, take 3 granules every 30 minutes
  • Pareiva brava in 4 or 5 CH, to be taken every 30 minutes at a rate of 3 granules also
  • Finally, Colibacillinum 7 CH (6 granules once a week for several months) will prevent the urinary infection (to avoid having one)
  • If the origin of the cystitis is rather psychological (stress), Stapgtsagrua 15 CH will be adapted

In any case, no matter what treatments or tips you adopt, if the infection persists, you must consult your doctor. Urinary tract infections are common and can be treated well, but if left untreated, they can lead to complications.

Can a urinary tract infection lead to complications?

If left untreated, a urinary tract infection can travel up the ureter to the kidneys, which is called pyelonephritis. In this case, you must be treated urgently. Indeed, a urinary infection can, in very rare cases, lead to septicemia or kidney failure. So if, in addition to the classic symptoms of a urinary tract infection, you have a fever, we advise you to consult your doctor quickly.

The risk of complications is greater during pregnancy, malformation of the urinary tract, kidney or bladder stones, or if you have diabetes.

Can men get a urinary tract infection?

Yes, men can get a UTI, but it is much rarer because the anatomy is different. The symptoms of a UTI in men are the same as in women.

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

What causes a urinary tract infection in men?

As with women, UTIs are most often caused by bacteria in the urinary tract, including E. coli bacteria. Men can get a UTI after unprotected anal sex or if they have an uncircumcised penis. This allows germs to pass into the urinary tract.

As with women, a urine examination can be considered to determine the germs causing the infection. Then, the treatment is done with antibiotics. The duration of treatment may take a little longer than for women.

Is a urinary tract infection contagious?

A urinary infection is not contagious! It is not an STI, and condoms do not 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 be aware that it may be painful or unpleasant. It is still recommended that you finish the UTI treatment before resuming sexual activity.

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