A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. However, the majority of urinary tract infections involve the lower urinary tract — the bladder and the urethra. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about urinary tract infections.
What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most urinary tract infections involve the lower urinary tract and affect the bladder and urethra, though if untreated, infections can spread to higher parts of the urinary system and may affect the kidneys and ureters. (1)
Most urinary tract infections are easily treatable. However, you want to make sure that you treat an infection if you have one. Allowing an infection to spread can have a very negative impact on your health and, in some cases, can even be life-threatening.
Women are far more likely to get urinary tract infections than men simply because their reproductive organs are more exposed and, therefore, more likely to be infected by bacteria. This is why feminine hygiene is often stressed more than male hygiene—though both are obviously important.
Urinary tract infections become serious when they spread to the kidneys. To prevent this, it is important to treat a urinary tract infection as soon as possible.
What Causes Urinary Tract Infection?
There are many urinary tract infection causes, though fundamentally, a urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and spread to the bladder. (2) Though the urinary system has many built-in defenses to keep bacteria out, sometimes these fail, and bacteria are able to take hold of the urinary tract.
Most UTIs occur in women and affect the bladder and urethra. In rare, more severe cases, they may also affect the kidneys. Infection of the bladder is usually caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli)—though other bacteria can also cause an infection. (2)
In many cases, women get urinary tract infections through sexual activity. However, because of female anatomy, women are at a greater risk of bacterial infections regardless of being sexually active or not. For women, the urethra is close to the anus, which makes it easier for bacteria around the anus to enter into the urethra and cause an infection. This infection can then travel and spread to the bladder.
Urinary tract infections can also be caused by a vaginal yeast infection known as vaginal candidiasis. (3) This occurs when a type of yeast known as Candida albicans, often simply referred to as Candida, grows beyond normal levels and starts to colonize the vagina and urinary tract.
Some of the factors that may increase your risk of developing a urinary tract infection include:
- Poor hygiene
- Wiping from back to front
- Unprotected sex
- Sex with multiple partners
- Unprotected anal sex (a common cause of UTIs for men)
- Certain types of birth control or spermicides
- Poor dietary or lifestyle habits that impact beneficial microbes
We often hear about the gut microbiome (the community of bacteria in your gut) and its importance in fighting off infections, but there is also a vaginal microbiome that plays an important role in protecting you from infections—and the health of your gut microbiome strongly influences the health of your vaginal microbiome. (4)
When you eat certain foods or use products with harmful ingredients in them, it may kill off some of the beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome. This can also impact your vaginal microbiome (as can certain topical items like soaps or ointments with harmful chemicals in them).
Your gut microbiome plays a huge role in your immunity, and when your gut microbiome (or your vaginal microbiome) is affected, it can make you more susceptible to infection. Poor microbial balance is also the biggest risk factor for developing a Candida infection—which can then lead to a vaginal yeast infection.
For this reason, it is important to use natural products, eat healthy organic foods as much as possible, and take good care of your microbiome. By strengthening your gut microbiome, you can support your body in being able to fight off infections better.
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infection
Not all urinary tract infections show symptoms. However, some of the most common urinary tract infection symptoms include:
- An increased urge to urinate
- Feeling like the urge to urinate doesn’t go away
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Frequent urination with small amounts of urine
- Difficulty urinating
- Cloudy-looking urine
- Strong-smelling urine
- Blood in the urine
- Pelvic pain (more common in women)
These are the most common signs of urinary tract infection in the bladder and urethra. If the infection has spread to the kidneys, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Back or side pain
- High fever
- Shaking and chills
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should consult with your doctor as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Urinary Tract Infection Treatment
So, how are urinary tract infections treated? It may depend on the type of infection that you have, but in most cases, antibiotics are prescribed as the standard urinary tract infection medication. This is because bacteria cause most urinary tract infections, so antibiotics can kill the bacteria causing the infection, which can alleviate your symptoms.
Some of the common urinary tract infection medications that are prescribed include:
- Trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole
- Ceftriaxone (5)
There is something to keep in mind, however, when it comes to treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotics are great at what they do—killing bacteria. They are so great at this that they often take out your beneficial bacteria as well. The more we learn about the importance of the gut microbiome, the more we realize that antibiotics are a double-sided sword.
On the one hand, they can be life-saving medications. On the other, they can severely impact your gut health and may kill off bacteria that you can never get back. For this reason, it is recommended to only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary and to take extra good care of your gut health after a round of antibiotics.
You can significantly improve your gut health by:
- Supplementing with a high-quality probiotic supplement
- Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh and miso
- Eating plenty of prebiotic foods that feed good gut bacteria
- Avoiding harmful substances like alcohol, processed sugars, chemical additives in food, etc.
- Eating a diet rich in fiber and organic plant-based foods
- Exercising regularly
- Keeping stress levels low
- Getting a good sleep each night
All of these factors can play a role in your gut health. Additionally, we have a complete protocol for repairing the gut that may help restore the gut lining in addition to restoring balance to your gut microbiome.
A healthy gut microbiome is important for preventing Candida infections as well, which are common causes of vaginal yeast infections. So, you really don’t want to affect your gut’s microbial balance unless it is absolutely necessary to get rid of an infection.
Some people choose to use a urinary tract infection home remedy instead of prescription antibiotics. These tend to be less invasive and less damaging to the gut microbiome but may also be less effective depending on the severity of the infection.
Some common urinary tract infection home remedies that are used include:
- Organic 100% cranberry juice
- Antibacterial herbs like oregano oil, green black walnut hulls, Oregon grape root
- High amounts of vitamin C
- Drinking a lot of water
In mild cases, these natural remedies may be effective for clearing infection. However, it is recommended to consult with your doctor about the best method of treatment for you. If you are concerned about the negative effects of antibiotics or would prefer a more natural route, you can consult your doctor with your concerns and can come up with the best method of treatment together.
Urinary tract infections can be uncomfortable, painful and frightening. Nothing makes you value your health more than when you are sick or fighting off an infection. This is why it is so important to focus on preventative measures like practicing good hygiene and good dietary and lifestyle practices.
The good news is most urinary tract infections are easily treatable with a round of antibiotics or antibiotic herbs. These may, however, have a harmful effect on the good bacteria in your gut as well. For this reason, it is important to take good care of your gut health, especially after a round of antibiotics.
Many people who have taken antibiotics to get rid of an infection develop another infection months down the road because they no longer have the beneficial bacteria needed to protect them properly. So, do not take this lightly when we say focus on improving your gut health, especially after using antibiotics. By taking good care of your gut health (and your health overall), you can improve your immunity and better protect yourself from developing an infection.
In any case, if you are dealing with a urinary tract infection or are worried about having an infection, consult with a medical professional to address your concerns and find the best method of treatment for you.