The signs come on all too suddenly: a frequent urge to pee, a burning sensation when you do, and only a small amount of urine coming out. The pain (and inconvenience) isn't uncommon. While men rarely experience them, the National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 50% of women develop a urinary tract infection in their lifetimes, and a number of those deal with recurrent UTIs.
"We're anatomically more prone to bladder infections because of the way the bladder sits right above the vagina," explains Dr. Sherry Ross, OB/GYN, author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. The closeness of the urethra - the tube that drains urine from the body - to the opening of the vagina makes it easier for unwelcome bacteria to get into the urinary system, affecting the urethra, bladder, or kidneys.
That's why Dr. Ross recommends practicing good hygiene after sex (a.k.a peeing right away!) to flush out any bacteria that can cause an infection. If you do suspect you have a UTI (sexually active and menopausal women are most at risk), here's what to look out for:
Symptoms of UTIs
- Persistent urge to urinate
- Pain or a burning sensation with urination
- Passing only a small amount of urine
- Pain in your lower belly or abdomen
- Pink, red, or cloudy urine
- Strong-smelling urine
- Fever or chills
- Lower back pain
When to Go to the Doctor
Despite the old wives' tale, cranberry juice will not cure your UTI. "The research is very inconsistent," Dr. Ross says. She advises seeing a healthcare provider straight away whenever you notice a change in your urination pattern because UTIs can lead to serious kidney infections - and a trip to the hospital.
Don't just let your doctor write you a prescription either. Common UTI symptoms can mimic other conditions like ruptured ovarian cysts, kidney stones, or interstitial cystitis, so dropping off a urine sample will clue your care team into what's really going on.
While UTIs can cause serious complications, rest easy knowing that they're usually cured quickly and easily with a round of antibiotics.
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