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Q. I was diagnosed with a UTI (urinary tract infection), and it was quite painful. Are there things I can do to avoid having another one?

A. A UTI is an infection in any part of your urinary system that includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The majority of UTIs affect the bladder and urethra (the lower urinary tract). The female urethra is shorter than in a male, making it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder from the anus and vagina through the urethral opening, which accounts for UTIs occurring 30 times more frequently in women. It is reported that 50% of women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime, and four in ten women who have a UTI are likely to get another within six-months.

Symptoms of a UTI include pain or burning when urinating, an urge to urinate frequently with little output, pressure in the lower abdomen or pelvis, milky or cloudy urine with a bad odor, blood in the urine, lethargy, mental confusion with shakiness or weakness (primarily in older patients), lower back pain, fever, and chills.

To avoid a recurrence, you can take the following actions: Drink water frequently throughout the day (water helps to dilute your urine, makes you urinate more often helping to flush bacteria from your urinary tract); empty your bladder soon after intercourse; always wipe from front to back after toileting to avoid bacteria in the anal area from reaching the vagina and urethra; avoid using feminine products such as deodorant sprays, douches, and powders that can irritate the urethra; consider different birth control if you are using diaphragms or spermicide-treated condoms; wear cotton underwear to reduce retained moisture; change out of wet bathing suits or damp workout clothes immediately. Some things that raise your risk for UTI include being post-menopausal, pregnancy, sexual activity especially with multiple partners, diabetes, kidney stones, purposely holding in urine for long periods of time, a suppressed immune system, catheter use, urinary tract blockages, and a prior UTI.

Although painful, UTIs are successfully treated with a course of antibiotics prescribed by your physician. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the kidneys, potentially causing damage. It is extremely unlikely that a UTI will clear on its own, but with medication is cleared quite quickly. It is essential to contact your physician’s office for evaluation if you experience any of the symptoms listed above. Our female physicians and nurse practitioner routinely treat UTIs and work with patients to resolve issues leading to recurrent infections.

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