Treating urine infections in women

Urine infections may be located in the bladder, called cystitis, or in the kidneys, called pyelonephritis. Most infections are caused by bacteria, usually by the germ “Escherichia Coli”. Cystitis infections are the most common bacterial infections in women, with about 50% of women suffering from a urine infection at least once in their life.

Symptoms of cystitis include pain or a burning sensation while urinating, a frequent need to go to the toilet, often a pain or weight in the lower abdomen and occasionally the presence of blood in the urine. Urine may also be cloudy and smell bad.

Pyelonephritis affects the kidneys. The infection tends to spread by travelling up the urinary tract from the bladder. The symptoms of pyelonephritis often come on suddenly, with the appearance of chills, fever, pain in the lower back, nausea and vomiting. Almost a third of those who suffer from pyelonephritis also experience cystitis symptoms.

The doctor will sometimes decide to carry out additional tests. This may be a test which is done in a few minutes on a urine test strip, at other times it may be a “urine culture” which provides a result within a few days. A urine culture allows you to confirm the presence of an infection, identify the bacteria which is responsible and then ensure that the prescribed antibiotics will be effective.

It’s still not easy to distinguish between a urine infection and a gynecological infection. Examining your symptoms and analysing your urine may allow the doctor to rule out a urine infection, in which case they may refer you to a gynecologist.

Causes

Urine infections are common in women because the bacteria travel up from the vaginal and anal regions, where bacteria are naturally present, to the bladder. A urine infection may also occur following sexual intercourse, because the movement may encourage the bacteria to move up to the bladder. Hormonal changes which occur during menopause may bring on cystitis more easily during this time in life.

Treatment

Urine infections are treated with antibiotics. The length of treatment is shorter for cystitis than it is for pyelonephritis. The doctor who prescribes you with the antibiotic will tell you for how many days you need to continue treatment.

Symptoms often improve during the first three days of treatment, although it may be slow, especially in the case of significant pain at the time of diagnosis or if it is a repeat infection.

Doctors sometimes give women who suffer frequently from cystitis, and who are able to recognise the symptoms of an infection, a back-up antibiotic which they can use for the next infection.

Contrary to popular belief, cranberries are not effective in the treatment of urine infections.

How to prevent urine infections?

To tackle frequent urine infections, the first piece of advice is to drink enough. For women who have urine infections due to sexual intercourse, we recommend going to urinate directly afterwards. Women who suffer from urine infections during menopause sometimes receive estrogen-based treatment.

For more information

If you would like more details, further information on urine infections is available on the Planète santé website. You can find a video which explains urine infections on the CHUV’s medical atlas.

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