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As a naturopathic doctor, I commonly see patients with urinary tract infections. In this article, I’ll not only discuss the symptoms and causes, but also how to prevent these pesky, irritating infections, and some home remedies that can help. Common Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections When you feel sudden pangs of pain or discomfort when urinating, or if you find you urgently need to go to the washroom to urinate, and then soon after you get the same urge again, yet very little urine comes out…these are some classic signs of a urinary tract problem. Another disturbing finding is when you peer into the toilet bowl and there is a pinkish-red colour or a cloudy smoky look which may also be smelly (signs an infection is involved). Most commonly these types of symptoms are due to an infection somewhere along the urinary tract (which includes the urine tube, bladder, and the ureter tubes connecting to and including the kidneys). Usually the infection is from bacteria from the intestinal tract (typically E. coli), but also from sexually-transmitted-disease (STD) organisms, yeast, or parasites. In fact, UTI’s are the most common bacterial infection overall.

How to Diagnose a Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections (UTIs), often called ‘bladder infections’ or ‘cystitis,’ are quite disruptive to your day, and can be very embarrassing and frustrating. Imagine having to hastily dash out from a business meeting, or run off multiple times from a tennis match, to rush to the washroom. Needless to say, it often leads to a trip to your doctors’ office, where s/he will test your urine for the presence of white blood cells and bacteria. If you have a vaginal/urinary discharge, the doctor may need a sample to send to the lab for culture and sensitivity testing, usually to rule out a sexually transmitted disease (STD) organism, such as Chlamydia or gonorrhea. Typically an antibiotic is prescribed to treat the bladder infection.

Antibiotic Resistance – A New Challenge in Treating UTI’s

One of the increasing problems in medicine today is that more and more people are being infected by bacteria that are no longer sensitive or reactive to antibiotics. One of the reasons is thought to be from the agricultural practice of giving antibiotics to agricultural livestock to promote faster animal growth rates. However, research appearing in the 2007 journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease found that women who most frequently ate retail chicken and retail pork had increased likelihood of being infected with antibiotic-resistant E. coli in their urinary tract. In addition, those who drank alcohol the most frequently had significantly more antibiotic-resistant UTI’s. Urinary tract infections are quite common for women, who experience them more than men since their urine tube is much shorter, so it is easy for micro-organisms to pass right into and stick to the bladder wall. If the infection is not cleared on its own in the first few days, it could spread higher up to the kidneys. If this happens, more intense symptoms may develop, such as fever, nausea, chills, and pain at your sides and back.

Predisposing Risk Factors for Developing UTI’s in Women

• Sexually active women

• Use of a diaphragm (a form of birth control)

• Having sexual partners who use condoms with spermicidal foam

• Kidney stones or other obstructions of the urinary tract

• People who use urinary catheters

• Immune system disorder (eg: HIV, cancer)

• Diabetes

• Pregnancy

• Non-absorptive underwear (eg: non-cotton)

• Using products that may irritate the genital area such as bubble bath, deodorant sprays, tight-clothing

• Wiping forward, instead of backward after urinating or defecating

Preventing Urinary Tract Infections

One of the main tenets of naturopathic medical practice is to prevent illness – prevention is better than cure. By far one of the best and least expensive ways to prevent UTI’s is from regularly consuming cranberry or blueberry juices or berries. Many research studies have shown that the polyphenol components in cranberry’s bind stray bacteria that can enter the bladder – thus preventing these bacteria from binding to the bladder lining to promote infection. 2010 research conducted in the famous Karolinska University in Stockholm, Sweden, found that sufficient levels of vitamin D help to prepare the bladder lining cells to produce their own microbial fighting protein called cathelicidin, which becomes active when micro-organisms are present in the bladder – so test your blood level of vitamin D to make sure it is in the optimal range. It is also useful for women to urinate right after having sexual intercourse, this can reduce the chances of getting a UTI.

Home Remedies for UTIs

It is important to take immediate action when you think you have a urinary tract infection. Without swift action, the infection could get worse and develop into a kidney infection, or spread even further. First – drink more fluids and urinate regularly. Water can help flush the urinary tract. Some foods and herbs help promote more effective urination such as asparagus, horsetail, and nettle. Second – consider adding herbal extracts such as uva ursi, horseradish, and goldenseal root. Uva ursi extract is a recognized herbal treatment in Europe, and in traditional herbal medicine in North America for UTI’s. It is best to consult your health care provider for their guidance in handling a urinary tract infection.

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