For women, maintaining urological health comes with some challenges, doctors say. As women age, women may become more prone to urinary problems such as recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs), urinary incontinence, overactive bladder, and pelvic organ prolapse. But the good news is that women don’t have to live with their symptoms, as most of these conditions are treatable with surgery, medications, or lifestyle and diet changes, according to a Baptist Health South Florida urologist.
(Watch a video: Dr. Lunan Ji with Baptist Health discusses common urological problems women experience. Video by George Carvalho.)
Lunan Ji, MD, specializes in general, reconstructive and female urology and is experienced in robotic and minimally invasive surgery. He sees patients for a variety of urological conditions, including voiding dysfunction, incontinence, prostate and urinary tract disorders, pelvic organ prolapse, kidney stones, and erectile dysfunction.
Dr. Ji says urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are one of the most common bacterial infections treated in the United States. Worldwide, the number of UTI cases is estimated at 150 million per year. According to the National Kidney Foundation, one in five women in the United States will have at least one UTI in her life. Almost 20% of these women will have another UTI and 30% of these will have another. Of the latter group, 80% will have recurrent UTIs. It has been estimated that more than 13,000 deaths are associated with UTIs each year.
“Urinary tract infections are very common infections,” says Dr. Ji. “They occur when bacteria, usually from the skin or rectum, enter the urethra and infect the urinary tract.” A bladder infection, or cystitis, is one of the most common types of urinary tract infections, he says. If not treated promptly, the infection can travel to the kidneys and cause more serious problems, such as a kidney infection or pyelonephritis, another type of UTI. “Kidney infections are less common than bladder infections, but they tend to be more severe,” says Dr. Ji.
Women are more likely to develop urinary tract infections than men because women have a shorter urethra, which makes it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder, explains Dr. Ji. “To prevent gut bacteria from entering the urinary tract, women should always wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom,” he says. “They should also clean the genital area every day and before having sex.”
Common risk factors for UTIs
Aside from sex, there are other common risk factors for UTIs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They include:
- A previous UTI
- Sexual activity
- Changes in bacteria that live inside the vagina, or vaginal flora, which can be caused by menopause or the use of spermicides
- Age (older people and young children are more likely to get urinary tract infections)
- Structural problems in the urinary tract, such as an enlarged prostate in men
- Poor hygiene, such as with children who potty train
Another cause of UTIs are urinary catheters, which are used on some hospitalized patients as well as by home patients who have certain health conditions. According to the National Healthcare Safety Network, every day that the urinary catheter remains, an hospitalized patient has a 3-7% increased risk of getting a catheter-associated urinary tract infection, or CAUTI.
This, says Dr. Ji, can lead to complications such as prostatitis, epididymitis and orchitis in males, and cystitis, pyelonephritis, gram-negative bacteremia, endocarditis, vertebral osteomyelitis, septic arthritis, endophthalmitis, and meningitis in both male and female patients. .
Accurate Diagnosis Key to Effective UTI Treatment
UTIs usually present with noticeable symptoms, according to Dr. Ji. “Some of the common symptoms of a urinary tract infection can include burning when urinating; foul-smelling or cloudy urine; often going to the bathroom or needing to run to the bathroom. In some cases, the patient may experience fever and chills, “he says. Symptoms of a kidney infection, meanwhile, can include fever, chills, back pain or pain in the side of the back, and nausea or vomiting.
Many women reflexively ask their doctor about antibiotics as soon as they develop symptoms of a urinary tract infection, which are effective in treating bacterial infections. However, says Dr. Ji, accurate diagnosis is essential in treating urinary tract infections.
“If you have symptoms, try a urine culture Before start antibiotic therapy, “he advises, noting that sometimes other diseases, such as sexually transmitted diseases, have symptoms similar to UTIs.” Before we can determine the best course of treatment, we need to understand if your symptoms are caused by an infection or something else “.
Can Cranberry Juice Help Prevent UTIs?
Many women drink cranberry juice in hopes of preventing urinary tract infections, but research on this has produced mixed results. Raw cranberries contain antioxidant proanthocyanidins, or PACs, which can prevent bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract, says the National Kidney Foundation.
“There have been many studies done on this and while there is nothing absolutely conclusive, there is enough evidence to suggest that cranberry supplements reduce the risk of urinary tract infections,” says Dr. Ji. “However, the studies done on cranberry juice have been less positive.”
In one study, researchers found that taking cranberry capsules containing 36 mg of PAC per day reduced the frequency of urinary tract infections in young people aged 12 to 18 with recurrent infections. According to another study, cranberry juice alone is unlikely to have the same effect, as most store-bought cranberry juices don’t contain enough PAC to prevent bacterial adhesion.
Minimize the risk of urinary tract infections
Women can reduce their risk of developing urinary tract infections by following a few simple steps with their personal hygiene, according to Dr. Ji. “When being potty trained, girls should be taught to clean from front to back,” he advises. Other steps women can take to prevent UTIs include:
- Urinating after sexual activity
- Take a shower instead of a bath
- Minimize washings, sprays, or powders in or around the genitals
If you develop a UTI, Dr. Ji recommends seeking treatment as soon as possible. “The most important thing is to know what’s causing your symptoms and treat it before it leads to more serious illness,” he says. “Recurrent UTIs are a real problem for many women and long-term antibiotic therapy isn’t always a solution as it has side effects.”