As a urogynecologist, recurrent urinary tract infections are one of the most common conditions frustrated patients seek my help. Urinary tract infections, also known as UTIs, are a common problem among women. Researchers believe that more than half of all women will experience a UTI at some point in their life. A woman’s urethra is much shorter than a man’s, leading to more opportunities for bacteria to get into the bladder and cause an infection.
Unfortunately, some experience infections more often than others. About a quarter of women suffer from recurrent UTIs, turning an occasional bout of pain and discomfort into repeated frustration and concern.
Because of their prevalence, these infections are a common source of concern in women’s health circles. Misdiagnosis and mistreatment happen relatively frequently. As a result, women can’t address the underlying issues or take steps to prevent recurrent infections.
Recurrent urinary tract infections require careful management. Poorly managed, a UTI will continue to affect your quality of life and health.
What are the Symptoms of Recurrent UTIs?
A UTI is a bacterial infection in the urethra or bladder. Typically, they occur when bacteria enter the urethra and travel up the bladder. The bacteria can come from many sources, but bacteria from the anal area are the most common culprit.
The symptoms of recurrent infections are the same as a standard UTI. These include:
- Burning pain during urination
- A constant urge to urinate
- Decreased urine output
- Cloudly or colored urine
- Strong and unpleasant urine odor
- Pain and pressure in the pelvic area
In addition to a painful burning sensation, women often first notice signs of an infection by observing the cloudy appearance of the urine. In many cases, a UTI may cause red, pink, or brown discoloration.
So how often is too often? Generally, women who experience two or more UTIs in six months, or those who have three more infections during a year, are considered to have recurrent UTIs.
Proper UTI treatment can help reduce the effects of the infection. However, symptoms can persist for up to two weeks. In complex cases, the infection can spread to one or both kidneys.
With this UTI being so common, many believe that it’s a minor condition. However, a spreading infection presents a genuine risk for permanent kidney damage, reduced function, and overall failure.
RELATED: Is Your Pelvic Pain Caused by Your Bladder?
Diagnosis of Recurrent UTI’s
The biggest obstacle with urinary tract infections is diagnosis. When symptoms develop, the condition can progress quite rapidly. As a result, most women turn to primary care providers, urgent care facilities, or even the emergency room for evaluation.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for medical professionals to misdiagnose UTIs based solely on symptoms. As a result, women are sent home with antibiotics and simple care instructions or given antibiotics over the phone without a proper evaluation.
However, there’s a lot of overlap between UTIs and other common conditions, such as vaginal infections, sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory changes, or irritable bladder. The improper evaluation, lack of appropriate testing, and understanding the many conditions that could result in symptoms similar to a UTI results in frequent misdiagnosis and poor treatment outcomes.
One study published by the American Society of Microbiology found that less than half of women diagnosed with a UTI had one. To make matters worse, physicians missed about 37 cases of sexually transmitted infections. Most of those women got the wrong diagnosis of a UTI.
The most reliable symptoms of a UTI are burning during urination and blood in the urine. Other common symptoms such as urinary frequency, urgency, vaginal itching, and abnormal odor are less dependable.
The best test to truly diagnose a UTI is to analyze a urinary sample. A urinary tract infection specialist will examine the urine under a microscope to look for bacteria or white blood cells. The presence of white blood cells indicates that the body is attempting to fight off an infection. Specialists may also take a urine culture to identify bacteria and yeast that could cause an infection.
It’s also critical to discuss these infections openly with a healthcare provider. Unless you’re vocal about recurrent UTIs, diagnosing physicians have no way of knowing that these infections are a regular thing. For this reason, many assume that it’s a single episode.
To investigate recurrent issues, consulting a urogynecologist, who specializes in diagnosing and treatment of urinary issues in women is needed. A urogynecologist may adopt more detailed and sophisticated methods of examination. For example, they might take a closer look at the urethra, bladder, and surrounding organs using an ultrasound machine or cystoscopy techniques.
RELATED: Treating Vaginal Infections
Management and Treatment of Recurrent UTI’s
Proper UTI treatment is about more than just taking antibiotics. One of the biggest complaints about misdiagnosing cases is the reliance on repeated antibiotic therapy. Not only can antibiotics have unwanted side effects, but they can also lead to the bacteria developing resistance.
Even though when properly used antibiotics can be useful, overuse of antibiotics also damages the healthy bacterial environment in the vagina, intestines, and bladder which results in recurrent vaginal infections, poor digestions, and abnormal intestinal bacterial growth, as well as recurrent UTI’s. In my practice, I use antibiotics infrequently and strategically when absolutely necessary. In most cases, I use natural treatment options to help our bodies restore the normal environment and eliminate conditions that lead to recurrent infection.
Ultimately, recurrent UTI treatment is about adopting healthier preventative habits and addressing any underlying health issues. All women are different, but standard management techniques include encouraging frequent urination and more water intake. Specialists can also recommend taking supplements, probiotics, or vaginal estrogen for postmenopausal women.
Dealing with recurrent UTIs is not easy. But, you can manage the condition with a little help. It all starts with proper diagnosis and management.
If you experience UTIs regularly, contact the offices of Dr. Michael Tahery today. Dr. Tahery is a urogynecologist with experience in both women’s health and urology. His expertise in the field can help women in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas find relief. Give our office a call to book a consultation and learn more about possible treatment options.