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 Medical Self-Care: Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) 
 
About 1 out of 5 women will get a urinary tract infection (UTI) in her life. Some women get lots of UTIs. Men get UTIs, too, but not as often.

What is the urinary tract? Your urinary tract is made up of these parts:

  • Kidneys.
  • Bladder.
  • Ureters (tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder).
  • Urethra (the opening where urine comes out).
How do we get UTIs? Usually, bacteria get in the urethra and go to the bladder. They grow in the bladder and move to other parts of the urinary tract.

Bacteria can get into a woman's urethra during sex. You should go to the bathroom right after sex to flush the bacteria out. Women who use a diaphragm for birth control have twice the risk of getting a UTI. Changes that happen when you get pregnant and after menopause can also make you prone to UTIs.

Also, any irritation to the opening of the urethra can lead to bladder infections. If you have signs of a vaginal infection, (a discharge, foul odor, etc.) get treatment for it to help prevent a bladder infection.

Some people are born with urinary tract problems that help them get UTIs. Anything that keeps you from passing urine freely can lead to UTIs. Kidney stones or an enlarged prostate gland are two examples. You are also more likely to get a UTI if you have had UTIs before.

Sometimes you don't even know you have a UTI. Most often you will have symptoms, though. They come suddenly, with no warning. Here are some of them:

  • A strong need to go to the bathroom.
  • Going to the bathroom more often than usual.
  • A sharp pain or burning in the urethra when you pass urine.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Feeling like your bladder is still full after you pass urine.
  • Soreness in your belly, back, or sides.
  • Chills, fever, sick stomach, throwing up.
See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms. A UTI can be serious if you don't treat it. The doctor will test a sample of your urine to find the problem. An antibiotic to treat the infection and pain relievers (if necessary) are the usual course of treatment.

Prevention
Here are some things you can do to keep from getting UTIs:
  • If you're a woman, wipe from front to back after using the toilet. This keeps bacteria away from the urethra.
  • Drink plenty of liquids to flush bacteria out of your system. Drink fruit juices, especially cranberry juice.
  • Empty your bladder as soon as you feel the urge. Don't give bacteria a chance to grow.
  • Drink a glass of water before you have sex. Go to the bathroom as soon as you can after sex, even if you don't feel the urge to.
  • If you use a lubricant when you have sex, use a water-soluble lubricant like K-Y Jelly
  • Wear cotton underpants. Bacteria like a warm, wet place. Cotton helps keep you cool and dry because it lets air flow through.
  • Don't take bubble baths if you have had UTIs before. Take showers instead of baths.
  • Don't wear tight-fitting under garments, jeans and/or slacks.
  • If you use a diaphragm, clean it after each use.
  • Have your doctor check your diaphragm periodically to make sure it still fits properly. The size may need to be changed if you gain or lose weight or if you have a baby. Replace your diaphragm according to your doctor's advice.


Self-Care Tips
  • Avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and coffee.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Cranberry juice is good, too. Liquids help wash out the infection.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Check for fever twice a day. Take your temperature in the morning and then in the afternoon or evening.
  • Take aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium. [Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication containing salicylates to anyone 19 years of age or younger, unless directed by a physician, due to its association with Reye's Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.]
  • Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the need. Empty your bladder completely, every time you pass urine.
    • If you have a condition that keeps you from doing this, such as that which occurs in some persons with multiple sclerosis, ask your doctor about using intermittent self-catheters.
  • Empty your bladder after sex.
[Note: See your doctor if you don't feel better in 3 days.]

Questions to Ask
(Excerpted from Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism)
Do you have these symptoms?
  • Fever and shaking chills
  • Pain in one or both sides of your lower back
  • Vomiting and nausea
Yes: Seek Emergency Care
No
Do you have these problems?
  • Burning or stinging feeling when you pass urine
  • Passing urine a lot more often than usual
  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Pain in your abdomen or over your bladder
  • Sick to your stomach or feeling like you're going to throw up
Yes: See Doctor
No
Do you have any of these problems?
  • You feel like you have to go to the bathroom very badly or do you feel like your bladder is still full after you go to the bathroom?
  • Your urine smell bad?
  • It hurts to have sex?
Yes: See Doctor
No
Have you had symptoms for more than 3 days, without getting better? Did medication the doctor prescribed give you side effects such as a skin rash or make you sick? Yes: Call Doctor
No
Do you get UTIs a lot? Yes: Call Doctor
No
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