Nov. 13, 2000 -- Even though it happened more than 10 years
ago, Mary Sander still vividly remembers her first urinary tract infection
(UTI), when an unimaginable pain wracked her abdomen. "The pain was so bad
I thought I was going to die," says Sander, now a 32-year-old clothing
designer in Reno, Nev. Medications soon brought comfort. But the agony -- more
intense than childbirth, says the mother of four -- remains fresh in her
For Sander, and an increasing number of women in the country,
that first infection is just the beginning. Experts from the National Institute
of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimate that UTIs recur in about
20% of all sufferers. And the problem is widespread: Such infections affect 8
to 10 million Americans a year, mostly women, according to the American
Foundation for Urological Diseases.
By Sarah Mahoney
How to quit nitpicking
It's not even noon on a Sunday, and I've been biting my tongue all morning.
When my husband sat down to Web surf two hours ago, I resisted the urge to
remind him that he had promised to clean the basement. I held my tongue again
when our 13-year-old trashed the kitchen while creating his "it's due
tomorrow!" science project. And I even managed to stifle myself when my
teenage daughter left a plate in the sink instead of reaching 18 inches...
Since infections tend to recur, many women may need multiple
rounds of antibiotics to treat them, says Frank Tally, MD, an infectious
disease specialist in Boston. And when women take one antibiotic after another,
they may be left with bacteria naturally resistant to all the drugs, he says.
However, with the proper precautions, women can help prevent UTIs from
occurring in the first place.
Bladder, Kidney, and Pain
What causes a UTI? Doctors point to the bacteria Escherichia
coli (E. coli) or Staphylococcus saprophyticus (staph) as the
usual suspects. They make their way into the urinary tract, typically through
the narrow tube that directs urine out of the body (called the urethra), often
encouraged by compressions that tend to occur during sexual intercourse.
The bacteria usually land in the bladder, causing cystitis, the
most common type of UTI. This results in pain in and around the pelvis and
lower back, as well as a burning sensation when urine -- which could be cloudy,
bloody, or foul-smelling -- is passed. Sufferers also tend to have the urge to
urinate frequently and usually get up more than once during the night to do
If the bacteria migrate higher in the body, from the bladder
into the kidneys (through connecting tubes called ureters), women may develop a
UTI called pyelonephritis. This causes pain in the middle of the back and often
fever and chills.