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Your Guide to Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

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    Chronic UTIs

    About 1 in 5 women experience a second urinary tract infection, while some are plagued incessantly. In most cases, the culprit is a different type or strain of bacteria. But some types can invade the body's cells and form a community safe both from antibiotics and the immune system. A group of these renegades can travel out of the cells, and then re-invade, ultimately establishing a colony of antibiotic-resistant bacteria primed to attack again and again.

    Some women are genetically predisposed to UTIs, while others have abnormalities in the structure of their urinary tract that make them more susceptible to infection. Women with diabetes may be at higher risk, as well, because their compromised immune systems make them less able to fight off infections like UTIs. Other conditions that increase risk include pregnancy, multiple sclerosis, and anything that affects urine flow, such as kidney stones, stroke, and spinal cord injury.

    UTI Treatment Options

    If you have 3 or more UTIs a year, ask your doctor to recommend a special treatment plan. Some treatment options include:

    • Referral to a urologist (a doctor who specializes in urinary problems)
    • Taking a low dose of an antibiotic over a longer period to help prevent repeat infections
    • Taking a single dose of an antibiotic after sex, which is a common infection-trigger
    • Taking antibiotics for 1 or 2 days every time symptoms appear
    • Using an at-home test kit when symptoms start

    The tests, which are available without a prescription, can help you determine whether you need to call your doctor. If you're on antibiotics, you can test to see if they've cured the infection (although you still need to finish your prescription). Contact your doctor if the test is positive, or if your symptoms continue, despite a negative test result.

    How to Prevent UTI Re-infection

    You can prevent getting another UTI with the following tips:

    • Empty your bladder frequently as soon as you feel the need to go; don't rush, and be sure you've emptied your bladder completely.
    • Wipe from front to back.
    • Drink lots of water.
    • Choose showers over baths.
    • Stay away from feminine hygiene sprays, scented douches, and scented bath products -- they'll only increase irritation.
    • Cleanse your genital area before sex.
    • Urinate after sex to flush away any bacteria that may have entered your urethra.
    • If you use a diaphragm, unlubricated condoms, or spermicidal jelly for birth control, consider switching to another method. Diaphragms can increase bacteria growth, while unlubricated condoms and spermicides can cause irritation. All can make UTI symptoms more likely.
    • Keep your genital area dry by wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes. Avoid tight jeans and nylon underwear -- they can trap moisture, creating the perfect environment for bacteria growth.
    • Choose cranberries. Just one 8-ounce glass of juice per day may help fight UTI-causing bacteria, according to researchers from the University of Washington. Cranberries contain a type of tannin that prevents E. coli bacteria, the most common cause of UTIs, from sticking to the walls of the bladder, where it can cause an infection. The berry may be effective in other forms, too, so if you're not a fan of juice, try dried cranberries or cranberry sauce. In another study, researchers from Edinburgh University in Edinburgh, Scotland, found that women who regularly consumed cranberries, either in juice or capsule form, were significantly less likely to experience UTIs over a 12-month period.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on February 18, 2012
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