Maybe you have had one yourself, or maybe you know someone who has. While you may not know the details about it, you definitely know they are uncomfortable! Let us demystify this really common health concern affecting many people assigned the female sex at birth, especially if you’re sexually active.

What is a UTI?

A UTI is any infection of the urinary tract, including the bladder, urethra, ureters and kidney. Most urinary tract infections are in the lower urinary tract: the urethra or bladder. If left untreated, it can spread up to your kidneys and make you really sick.

Let’s break it down:

  • Urethritis: An infection in the urethra. This is usually caused by a sexually transmitted infection, but can be caused by other organisms.
  • Cystitis: A bladder infection. This occurs when bacteria that naturally exist in our vaginal, genital, or rectal area make their way up into our bladder and multiply, causing symptoms.

  • Pyelonephritis: A kidney infection. Usually happens as a result of untreated or inappropriately treated cystitis or urethritis, where the bacteria travels to your kidneys.

Signs and symptoms of a UTI

  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Frequency of urination, often with only a small amount of urine

  • Urgent need to urinate (like, you really have to go or you might not make it!)
  • Pelvic pain/pressure with urinating
  • Blood in urine

  • Cloudy urine or change in urine color

  • Fever *

  • Pain in the sides of your mid-back *

*These are more commonly signs of a kidney infection and we will recommend that you seek care in person ASAP if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

How do you get a UTI?

Sometimes a UTI just happens. Other times it’s a result of a new activity, product, or changes in your body over time.

Some risk factors for a UTI include:

  • Female genitalia*
  • Certain types of birth control, like a diaphragm or spermicide

  • Perimenopause/Menopause

  • Urinary tract abnormalities or structural problems

  • Weakened/suppressed immune system

*But why???

It can be purely a function of anatomy. Female urethras (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of our body) are much shorter than male urethras; this means that bacteria can travel up to our bladder faster, which can then cause an infection.

Sometimes UTIs happen as a result of genital hygiene habits that allow bacteria to creep up into the bladder where they don’t belong.  Talking about preventing UTIs is useful in knowing how they might occur.

If you are experiencing recurrent UTIs (2 or more UTIs in 6 months or 3 or more UTIs a year), it could be due to an underlying health condition, and we always recommend visiting your regular provider to further investigate the cause of your infections.

Prevention

Some patients suffer from UTIs for a variety of complex reasons and we know that preventing UTIs isn’t always an easy thing to do! However, if you haven’t tried any of these tricks before, here are some easy things you can try to help prevent getting a UTI.

  • Drink lots of fluids, especially water-this helps flush out your urinary tract!
  • Wipe front to back after using the bathroom-most UTIs are caused by E.coli, the bacteria found in feces (poop💩).
  • Peeing before AND after you have sex.
  • Urinating as soon as you have the urge to go—don’t hold it!
  • Avoid using douches or vaginal sprays/deodorants (they aren’t good for you and aren’t necessary).

Treatment

UTIs are treated with antibiotics, medication intended to kill the bacteria that is hanging out in your bladder causing the symptoms. A course of antibiotics for a UTI is usually less than 1 week, depending on your medical history, allergies, and history of having a UTI in the past.

…But what about cranberry?

Here is the deal with cranberry. As far as we know in mainstream allopathic medicine (aka “western medicine”), there is no good evidence that supports the use of cranberry in any form for the treatment of a UTI. We do know however that there is some mixed evidence supporting the use of cranberry in UTI prevention, particularly for women with recurrent UTIs<

Certain compounds in cranberries, when present in the bladder, prevent bacteria (such as E.coli) from sticking to the wall of the bladder; it essentially makes the inside of the bladder slippery. This suggests that there is a lower likelihood these bacteria can “stick” around and cause a problem…. (see what we did there?)

The exact dose of cranberry to prevent a UTI isn’t well understood, however any preparation with a higher concentration of pure cranberry is generally better than those that are more diluted. This means that consuming cranberry concentrate or fresh cranberries is preferable over cranberry cocktail (the kind of cranberry juice most people are familiar with), but both are really tart! You can also find cranberry supplements in a pill or tablet, which eliminate the sour flavor factor. While we cannot officially endorse the use of cranberry for UTI prevention, it’s likely not harmful for most women, and when used in conjunction with other measures, might reduce your likelihood of getting recurrent UTIs.

UTI or STI?: What you should know

One burning question you may have is… “Are my symptoms caused by a UTI or caused by an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection)?

Sexually active people are at risk for getting STIs like gonorrhea or chlamydia. Sometimes, these infections can cause symptoms similar to those of a urinary tract infection, like burning when you pee, as well as other symptoms like yellow or greenish vaginal, penile, or rectal discharge. If left untreated these infections can cause lower abdominal or pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding, and fever. Often, STIs don’t cause any symptoms at all and people don’t know that they have an infection. There are different options for testing, but at Choix we can check for these STIs with a simple urine test.

If you are experiencing symptoms of a UTI and…

  • Have never been tested before
  • Have a new sexual partner or are planning on becoming sexually active with a new partner

  • Have multiple sex partners

  • Are ready for your yearly check up!

  • Only have one urinary symptom (only pain when you pee, only urinate frequently, etc.)

….then you might want to consider getting tested! We can order the urine test to be performed at your local lab. STI testing will give us more information about what is going on and how best to treat you. If your tests come back positive, we will discuss your treatment options with you.

Regular STI testing empowers you to be knowledgeable about your health and keep you and your sex partners safe!

Unfortunately, we can only offer STI testing as an addition to our UTI care at the moment, but plan to offer STI testing for all patients soon!