Ways to keep UTI at bay

The kidneys in a human body produce around 1.5 to 2.5 litres of urine a day, which travels to the bladder through the ureters and is stored there. A person empties his or her bladder via the urethra around 6-8 times a day.

By YOUR HEALTH - Dr Gita Mathai
  • Published 1.08.18
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The kidneys in a human body produce around 1.5 to 2.5 litres of urine a day, which travels to the bladder through the ureters and is stored there. A person empties his or her bladder via the urethra around 6-8 times a day.

Infections can occur anywhere along this tract. Women are more prone to urinary tract infections (UTI) than men, and are also more likely to have recurrences. This is because women have a shorter urethra with only one valve. It is situated close to the anus and rectum, both of which teem with bacteria. The commonest infection-causing bacteria is E. coli.

hese bacteria can migrate to the urethra, then up it to the bladder where it happily multiplies. Once a critical threshold is reached, the bacterial infection produces symptoms. UTI is also more likely to develop during pregnancy, when the growing uterus prevents the free flow of urine.

Infection initially causes a feeling of fatigue, which may be followed by pain, either in the pelvic area or the side of the back. There may be fever, chills and vomiting. Urination may be agonisingly painful and urine may be high coloured or bloodstained.

The urine should be tested and cultured. Antibiotics can be started while waiting for the culture reports. Once the antibiotics are started, adjuvant treatment with analgesics and hot water fomentations to the lower abdomen provide relief. The  symptoms disappear and the urine clears up. The medication should, however, not be stopped at this point. The entire course of antibiotics has to be completed. Otherwise, the strongest bacteria lurking in the bladder may survive. As soon as the inhibitory antibiotic levels fall, the bacteria thrive again. This time they may not respond to the antibiotic.

igher doses, intravenous administration and stronger antibiotics may be needed. The infection may become chronic with frequent recurrences as the bacteria settle down comfortably and thrive  in the urinary tract.

Men are less likely to develop an UTI as they have a longer urethra with two valves. But it can occur if there is an obstruction — such as an enlarged prostate — which prevents the free, forceful flow of urine. Also, some urine remains in the bladder (post void residual urine) allowing bacteria to grow. The prostate, which encircles the urethra, may get inflamed and pass the infection into the urinary tract.

In both sexes, UTI is more likely to occur if there is chronic constipation, a stone or tumour impeding the flow of urine or there is uncontrolled diabetes, which has reduced immunity and provides sugar-laden urine for bacteria to thrive.

The writer is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore and author of Staying Healthy in Modern India. If you have any questions on health issues please write to yourhealthgm@yahoo.co.in