When I first realize the burning in the area of my bladder isn’t going away, a clip from the movie “The Perfect Storm” starts playing in my head. It’s when George Clooney, the doomed fishing boat’s captain looks out at the eerily calm horizon and says matter-of-factly: “It’s not going to let us out.” He’s referring to the deadly storm that is moments away from engulfing the hapless boat, like the bacteria that I know is overwhelming my urinary tract.
If like me you’re a veteran from the war on urinary tract infection (UTI), you already know how quickly they come on. Bacteria get introduced into the urethra all kinds of ways we’d normally not mention in polite company – like forgetting to wipe front to back and having sex. Virginia Mason urologist Ksenija Stefanovic, MD, PhD, has a couple more causes worth mentioning: new sexual partners (the more partners, the greater the risk) and the use of spermicide, as with a diaphragm, for birth control. Spermicides can disrupt normal bacteria in the vagina and urinary tract, leaving the area open to attack.
I believe my last vacation UTI was caused by a similar chemical disruption: a marathon soak in a chlorinated hot tub. Because I’m a UTI frequent flyer, my doctor’s office was able to phone in a prescription for antibiotics where I was vacationing. However you might not have this option if it’s your first UTI, your symptoms aren’t straightforward, or if you’re running a fever and/or have low back pain (the latter an indication the kidneys may be involved, which is more serious).
So what really is the message in this tedious personal UTI history? Prevention, my fellow sufferers, and perhaps some tips to save our UTI-free sisters from ever knowing that bladder-in-a-vice feeling. Here’s what you can do:
- Drink water like you mean it. I know, pretty obvious: drinking plenty of water flushes the urinary tract and keeps bacteria at bay. But if you’re like me and regard plain water with a yawn, the reminder is necessary.
- Go after the glow. Most women have heard the one about urinating after sex, but it bears repeating because it’s such a frequent cause of UTIs. By going afterward, any bacteria that have been nudged into the urinary tract will be washed away before they have a chance to stir up trouble.
- Beware the “summer breeze.” Scented feminine hygiene products can actually irritate the urinary tract, making it vulnerable to attack. If you’re suspicious of a soap, spray or other smelly product you use, dump it.
- Embrace cranberry. Cranberry is thought to decrease the risk of UTI by preventing the binding of bacteria to healthy cells. Also, cranberry makes urine more acidic, which may have an antibacterial effect. While drinking pure, unsweetened cranberry juice is one source, I found cranberry extract in a gel capsule to be much more convenient – and a lot less bitter. Remember: it only works as a preventive measure. Cranberry can’t cure a UTI once it has developed.
Finally, a reminder from Dr. Stefanovic: If you are prescribed antibiotics for a UTI, be sure to take the full course of medication, even if you’re feeling better.
So go forth, my sisters, to work, play and vacation in good urinary health. And leave the perfect storm to Mr. Clooney and the boys.