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Basic facts about Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Today, more than ever before, Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) has become a thorny illness, not because it is incurable, but its management can be complicated. Health experts agree that, if the general public will understand all about the infection it can reduce the related complications and lessen the health care expenditures in persons of all ages. 

UTI is an infection in any part of an individual's urinary system. The urinary system consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Most infections begin in the urethra, the tube that drains the bladder.

It is theorised that because in women the opening of the urethra is in close proximity to the anus and vagina, the organisms can more readily move from these openings to the urethra which accounts for the higher infection rate in women than men.  It is among the most frequent clinical bacterial infections in women, accounting for nearly 25 per cent of all infections. Around 50 to 60 percent of women experience UTI in their lifetime. Recurrences usually occur within three months of the original infection, and 80 per cent of UTIs are reinfections.

UTIs are a key reason everyone, especially women are advised to wipe from front to back after using the bathroom. The bacteria from the large intestine, such as E. coli, can escape the anus and invade the urethra, travel up to the bladder causing an infection. Lack of treatment of the infection can infect the kidneys.

The aim of this article is to share with you the common risk factors for contracting UTIs and proven at home preventive measures.  The factors that increase the risk of contracting UTI include, incomplete bladder emptying which creates an environment that allows bacteria to thrive and multiply allowing the residual urine to be rapidly infected by the bacteria. 

In cases of pregnant women, UTI’s are more common because of the changes in their urinary tract since the uterus sits directly on top of the bladder. As the uterus grows, its increased weight can block the drainage of urine from the bladder, causing an infection.

Male victims with enlarged prostate gland are at risk of contracting UTI as well because when   the prostate gland begins to swell it tends to tighten around the urethra, making it harder for urine to flow through the narrow tube which leads to a weak stream or poor flow when they urinate causing urine retention.

Another risk of contracting UTIs is through sexual intercourse especially in women. Sexual intercourse irritates the urethra, allowing bacteria to travel more easily through it and into the bladder. Use of diaphragm and condoms with spermicidal foam as contraceptives pose as a risk since chemicals in spermicide gel can irritate the vagina making it more vulnerable to infection.

Diabetic clients also have higher risk of contracting  UTIs especially those with type 1 diabetes that have poor blood sugar control. Older women with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of UTIs as well. This is due to higher levels of sugar in the urine that promotes growth of bacteria. 

Postmenopausal women may experience changes in hormone production, particularly oestrogen, which can alter vaginal flora, the good organisms that populate the vagina and fight bacteria.  Other risk factors for UTIs include; obstruction in the urinary tract such as kidney stones; wearing of little lingerie; bicycling regularly-women; Instrumentation of the urinary tract among others.

While not all cases of UTIs can be prevented, there are some proven at home preventive measures that one can implement to reduce the risk of developing an infection. Studies shows that consuming fluids, especially water, helps to dilute urine and spur more frequent urination, which flushes bacteria from your urinary tract. Moreover, increasing water intake can halve one’s chance of experiencing a recurrent UTI. 

Drinking cranberry juice also helps prevent UTIs since they contain a substance that stops the bacteria that causes UTIs from attaching it to the bladder walls. While cranberries can’t cure UTIs, they can prevent them from occurring in the first place. Prevention of constipation through daily fibre intake (20g to 30g of fibre a day) and drinking plenty of fluids.  In post menopausal women, use of probiotics and oestrogen supplements is recommended as a preventive measure.

Other home preventive measures to curb UTIs especially for women are: Going to the toilet as soon as one feels the need to urinate, rather than holding it; Wiping from front to back after going to the toilet helps prevent spreading of the bacteria from the anal area to the vagina and urethra; Practicing good sexual hygiene reduces the number of bacteria that one’s partner can transfer during intercourse and other sexual acts, this can be achieved by urinating before and immediately after sex, using barrier contraception such as a condom, washing the genitals, especially the foreskin, before and after engaging in sexual acts or intercourse and washing the genitals; Avoiding products that irritate the urethra such as deodorants; and using probiotics such as  yoghurts, cheese, probiotic supplements among others.

To identify a UTI, keep an eye out for the following symptoms: A burning feeling when you urinate; frequent or intense urge to urinate even though little urine comes out when you do; pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen; cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange-smelling urine; Feeling tired or shaky; Fever or chills; nausea, vomiting, muscle aches and abdominal pains. If you suspect you have a UTI don’t hesitate to consult a doctor.  Remember, “The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings.” – Hippocrates

The Author, Racheal Masibo, is an Assistant Lecturer at St John’s University of Tanzania (SJUT)-School of Nursing, P.O BOX 47 Dodoma Tanzania. Email: rackelmasibo@yahoo.com Mobile: 0717513598

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