What causes 10 million doctor visits a year?
To those who've suffered from a urinary tract infection (UTI), the symptoms are unmistakable. First, there's the frequent need to urinate, often accompanied by a burning sensation. Or worse: you think you have to go, but there's barely a trickle. You know immediately it's a UTI even before you call the doctor.
"UTIs are so common in women that most will report at least one UTI before the age of 24," says Virtua board-certified internist Steven Gerber, MD
. "In fact, women have a one in five chance of contracting a UTI during their reproductive years."
Why so common?
It's important to understand how the urinary tract works to understand why UTIs are prevalent in women. The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Together they produce, store and dispose of urine.
UTIs often occur when bacteria enters the urinary tract. While the walls of the urethra and bladder normally defend against these bacteria, many factors make women more susceptible to UTIs. A woman's urethra is shorter than a man's, which allows bacteria to reach the bladder and multiply more quickly.
"Some women have low resistance, causing bacteria to cling to the urinary tract triggering more frequent UTIs," adds Dr. Gerber.
Sexual activity also contributes to UTIs in women: "During intercourse, bacteria may enter the bladder. To flush out the bacteria, women should urinate within 15 minutes of sexual intercourse," says Dr. Gerber.
To diagnose a UTI, either your physician collects a urine sample and tests it for the presence of white blood cells. If present, it's a positive indication for bacteria and for a UTI.
"Treatment for UTIs often includes a prescription for antibiotics that are taken for about three or more days depending on the severity of the infection. I also encourage women to drink a lot of fluids, which helps flush it out of the system," adds Dr. Gerber.
Women, who experience recurrent UTIs, can relieve their symptoms before visiting their doctor with over-the-counter medication that contains phenazopyridine (Pyridium). This numbs the bladder quickly, providing fast relief until you get to the doctor. It is important to remember that this medication simply treats the symptoms, not the bacterial infection that causes the UTI.
Meet the physician
Steven Gerber, MD
, is board certified in internal medicine. He graduated from Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia and completed a residency in internal medicine at Overlook Hospital in New Jersey. He also earned fellowships in hypertension and nephrology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.