In a desperate attempt to alleviate the burning pain from yet another urinary tract infection (UTI), Lea (not her real name) consumed antibiotics meant for her dog instead, because her own supply had run out. The 23-year-old explained: “Sometimes you can hold it in, but other times it hurts too bad that you have to resort to doing anything you can to reduce the pain.”
Jess, too, had her own share of horror stories: “It happened during my first lecture during my second week in University. There was a sudden pain below my stomach and it got worse throughout.” Not being able to stand up or walk properly, she had to be helped to the school’s clinic. “I also had fever along with it and vomited several times,” she said.
Being female increases UTI chances
Burning sensation when urinating, frequent urges to urinate with little or no urine coming out, or fever are just some of the painful symptoms of UTI, which is an infection in any part of the urinary tract. UTI is mainly caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli (E.coli) found in the anus, and occurs when the bacteria travel from the anus to the urinary tract.
While males also get UTI, females are more prone to contracting UTI due to the structure of the female anatomy – their urethra (4cm) is shorter as compared to the male urethra (15-20cm). This means that bacteria can easily move from the anus to the bladder, or worse, further up the urinary tract.
About 20% of Singaporean women from ages 20-65 suffer at least one attack of UTI each year, and 1 in 3 women have their first episode of UTI by the age of 24.
Like many other females, Lea has had UTI attacks “about 10 to 15 times” since she was 18 years old. The high recurrent nature of UTI is what makes the issue even more pressing.
Sometimes, the infection in the urinary system spreads to the upper tract where the kidneys and ureters are, leading to severe occurrences such as kidney infection and failure. UTI was the eighth cause of death last year – higher than diabetes.
Antibiotics and its negative impact
While antibiotics are most commonly used to treat UTIs, the issue of antibiotics resistance is also on the rise. According to findings published in Annals of Emergency Medicine, drug-resistant bacteria caused nearly 6% of urinary tract infections.
Antibiotics resistance poses a serious problem, especially for those who experience recurrent UTI. This will reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics, and lengthen the pain and discomfort sufferers go through.
Economic costs from UTI are also substantial, especially for students. Antibiotics are not cheap – doctors will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics to complete throughout the recovery process.
While you can’t prevent UTI totally, there are many lifestyle habits you can adopt in order to drastically reduce the chances of contracting UTI.
DRINK 6-8 glasses of water a day
Drinking water helps dilute your urine and ensures frequent urination, allowing bacteria to be flushed from your urinary tract.
PEE 6-8 times a day
Urinating frequently will flush out bacteria. Try not to hold in large amounts of urine for too long, as this increases the body’s contact with potentially harmful bacteria built up in the stagnant urine.
WIPE from front to back
Wiping from front to back (and not back to front) ensures that you are moving your fecal matter (where E.coli is at) away from the vagina, and thus, the urethra.
Fermented foods are good for us — these include kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and miso. They contain beneficial bacteria that help restore the natural balance of gut bacteria which impacts our health fundamentally, affecting digestion, immunity, weight and mental health. Negative changes in the gut flora can lead to chronic diseases like UTI.
Other good practices:
- Urinate before and after sexual intercourse
- Refrain from douching and using other personal hygiene products as they may cause irritation
- Change pads and/or pantyliners often to prevent large amounts of vaginal secretion – which contain bacteria – from coming into contact with the skin
- Wear loose fitting clothes and cotton underwear