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Myths and truths about UTIs

Urinary tract infections, are caused by bacterial contamination and infection of the normallysterile urine in the urinary bladder.

The question

I have a bladder infection. If I drink enough water and cranberry juice, will it go away?

Urinary tract infections, also know as bladder infections or cystitis, are caused by bacterial contamination and infection of the normally sterile urine in the urinary bladder. These bacterial infections result in symptoms that may include a frequent and urgent need to urinate, burning while urinating, lower abdominal discomfort and blood in the urine.

Women are much more susceptible to UTIs than men because a woman's urethra, the tube leading out from the bladder, is much shorter and thereby more subject to contamination. The cause of UTIs in women varies with age. Young girls may wipe the wrong way after a bowel movement, going from back to front and spreading excrement. The most common source of UTIs in adult women is sexual activity (sometimes nicknamed Honeymoon Cystitis). A woman may forget to urinate after having sex, and bacterial contamination from a woman's bottom can migrate into the urethra and bladder, infecting any residual urine in the bladder. In senior men and women, incomplete emptying of the bladder may similarly result in bacterial overgrowth and infection.

To avoid getting a UTI, women must always: wipe from front to back after using the toilet, make sure to urinate immediately after sexual activity so as to flush away any bacteria and don't "hold it in" at work or while on long car or plane trips.

Most UTIs are caused by bacteria that live in the colon, typically E. Coli, and can be effectively treated with antibiotics. A bladder anesthetic can also be prescribed or obtained over-the-counter to relieve the irritating symptoms of a UTI, but it won't treat the infection. Drinking cranberry juice or trying to "flush out the infection" by drinking water will also not cure a bacterial UTI.

Men under 50 who experience burning while urinating are much more likely to have an STD and should consult a doctor immediately upon experiencing symptoms. For men over age 50, an enlarged prostate may prevent the bladder from fully emptying and contribute to development of a UTI.

Left untreated, cystitis may spread to the kidneys and blood stream. This systemic illness is called pyelonephritis and may result in fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, bleeding or, in severe cases when your body is overwhelmed by the bacteria, septic shock. If you experience UTI symptoms, see a doctor as soon as possible to avoid complications. Symptoms of STDs may mimic a UTI, so make sure your doctor checks you thoroughly.

— Mark Melrose, DO, is a board-certified emergency physician at Urgent Care Manhattan. E-mail him at askdrmark@metro.us.

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