Minding your pees and queues

On the road, frequent pit stops can really affect your bottom line. Yet, if you’ve ever come down with a urinary tract infection (UTI), you know that the need for frequent urination is one of the first annoying symptoms. Considering that the kidneys really just filter our blood, it’s a wonder we don’t have more UTIs. About a quarter of our body’s blood travels through the kidneys, which then separate waste products and excess amounts of minerals, sugar, and other chemicals for elimination.

These waste products become part of the urine, which flows through “ureters” (one per kidney) into the bladder, where it is stored until you are ready to get rid of it. To urinate, the muscles in the bladder wall help push urine out of the bladder, through the urethra, and out of the body.

Usually, urine is sterile, which is good, since the mineral content of urine makes it ideal for bacteria to grow in. So ideally, there should be no bacteria in the urine.

In fact, most UTIs are caused by bacteria entering from the outside. Fortunately, the body has lots of safeguards to prevent bacteria from reaching the kidneys. To begin, the urethral sphincter keeps bacteria from beginning a climb up the urethra. Then, if bacteria get in, they must travel quite far to reach the kidneys since the connecting ureters are quite long.

As well, the simple act of urination flushes bacteria away, since most people empty their bladders almost completely when they urinate. Additionally, valves where the ureters enter the bladder prevent urine from “refluxing” from the bladder to the kidneys. Therefore, even when the bladder or urine is infected, the bacteria shouldn’t be able to travel up to the kidneys.

Sometimes though, kidney stones or an enlarged prostrate gland may contribute to a UTI by not allowing the bladder to empty completely. In these cases, germs aren’t eliminated efficiently.

What are the symptoms of a UTI? Although not everyone develops obvious symptoms, the common ones are: a strong, persistent urge to urinate; a burning sensation when urinating; an ability to only excrete small amounts of urine; blood or bacteria in the urine; and/or cloudy, strong-smelling urine.

A UTI in a specific area of the urinary tract has these specific symptoms: If it’s in the urethra, there’s burning when you urinate. If it’s in the bladder, there’s pelvic pressure and discomfort in the lower abdomen. As well, you’ll have a low-grade fever and have frequent, painful urination. If it’s in the kidneys, you’ll have a high fever with shaking and chills. You’ll also have pain in your upper back and side, and nausea and vomiting.

See a doctor immediately if you have painful urination and any of the following: nausea and vomiting; fever and chills; shaking and night sweats; pain in the back just below the rib cage; pain on one side of your body; pain in the groin;or, severe abdominal pain.

These are signs that the infection has spread to your kidneys, which is particularly dangerous because it could lead to internal, permanent scarring of the kidneys. This scarring could hinder your body’s ability to filter and remove liquid wastes for the rest of your life.

Consider calling a doctor if: you have had a UTI previously that required medical attention and you’re feeling the same symptoms again; you have blood or pus in your urine; you have diabetes; you’ve been prescribed and taken antibiotics but your symptoms didn’t improve or they came right back as soon as you stopped taking the drugs; or, you have taken self-help actions, but your symptoms have not gone away

For preventive and self-help actions, I suggest that you: drink lots of water; urinate frequently to flush the bacteria from your urinary tract; urinate when you feel the urge; avoid constipation; maintain excellent hygiene; wear cotton underwear; avoid tight-fitting pants. Then, if you still get an infection, soak in a hot tub or use a heating pad to ease the discomfort.

If you are prone to getting UTIs, drink cranberry juice or take cranberry pills daily. But, don’t use cranberry products if you have a history of kidney stones. Urinary tract infections are usually avoidable. Use common sense to handle this common condition.

-Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at karen_bowen@yahoo.com.

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