Causes and Symptoms of UTIs
Symptoms, how they develop and triggers (yes, sex is one of them)
More than half of all women have a bladder infection (or several) in their lifetime. Cystitis is one of the most common infections. They are extremely annoying, painful and distressing - and unfortunately still often a taboo subject. Yes, sex is one of the main risk factors (hence the name Honeymoon Cystitis), but that doesn't mean UTIs only result from having lots of sex with different partners - as is so often the stigma. A UTI can follow even after having sex once with a steady boyfriend or husband - especially if condoms are not used in the process.
Along with the stigma and taboo, many women are helpless and not knowledgeable about their bodies. Thus, many unknowingly promote inflammation through their behaviour and unbalance the pH level of their vagina. It is therefore time to change this. Only if you know how your body works, you can support it optimally to stay healthy.
How do bladder infections develop?
The main cause of cystitis is bacteria that travel from the intestinal tract to the urethral opening and then through the urethra into the bladder. Bacteria are generally not bad; in fact, we need some for our health and have plenty of them in our bodies ourselves. However, one particular family of bacteria often causes problems in the bladder. We are talking about the E. coli bacteria, which are responsible for 80 to 90% of bladder infections, depending on studies.
Because the urinary tract in women is closer to the anus and our urethra is much shorter than in men, which means that the bacteria do not have far to travel to the bladder, we also get these infections more often.
In the intestine, E. coli bacteria usually do no harm, because there they can be better kept in check by the immune system and competing bacteria. However, this is not the case in the bladder. So they can spread and multiply there more easily. In order to do this and not be flushed out, they attach themselves to each other on the one hand and form a mucus (biofilm) on the inner wall of the bladder. On the other hand, they also attach themselves to the cells on the inside of the bladder. This active bonding with the bladder mucosa is recognized by the immune cells residing in it and they try to repel the intruders as quickly as possible via various mechanisms and render them harmless. This defense reaction then leads to the actual inflammation. Since the defense mechanisms are also partly harmful to our own mucous membrane, this leads to the pain and other symptoms of UTIs. However, with the right measures, the inflammation can quickly subside. Only rarely does it spread further to the kidney via the ureters and trigger a renal pelvic inflammation there.
What are the typical symptoms?
The symptoms of UTIs can vary in severity and do not all have to occur. Pay close attention to your body's first signs to stop the progression of the inflammation as early as possible.
- Frequent urination is usually the first sign of a UTI. You feel like you have to go to the bathroom all the time, but then only a few drops come out because your body hasn't made more urine. However, the bladder gives the signal that it wants to be cleared of bacteria.
- Burning when you pee usually comes next and is caused by the infection irritating mucous membranes.
- Difficult, painful bladder emptying often means you can't pee at all.
- Cramps and pain in the lower abdomen and pubic area can occur not only when you go to the toilet, but are felt permanently by many women. The result can also be an involuntary loss of urine (but usually only a few drops).
- Unusually strong, unpleasant-smelling urine is caused by the increased concentration of bacteria and their metabolic products.
- Cloudy urine is caused by pus that may form on the bladder wall as the immune system fights the infection. As the infection progresses, there may also be some red blood cells in the urine.
Situations that can cause UTIs
Women have an extra high risk of getting a UTI during pregnancy, after menopause and if they suffer from diabetes. Otherwise, the following situations can promote a bladder infection:
- Dehydration - Concentrated urine irritates the bladder and bacteria can be poorly flushed out if you don't drink enough water.
- Cold - When you get hypothermia, your bladder skin gets less blood flow and your immune system weakens.
- Sweating - Extreme exercise can weaken your immune system and dehydrate you as well.
- Underwear - Non-breathable fabrics create a good breeding ground for bacteria, as does not changing your panties regularly.
- Tampons - can irritate as well as trap bacteria.
- Peeing infrequently - gives bacteria time to multiply and do damage.
- Sex, especially without a condom, can easily bring intestinal bacteria to the vagina and urethra through friction.
- Swimming in chlorinated water - attacks your vaginal flora, making it easier for bacteria to multiply.
- Stress - weakens our immune system.
Fortunately, most bladder infections - for all the suffering they cause - are at least harmless and can be treated quickly (after 1 to 3 days the symptoms should be over). And by taking preventive measures, you can greatly reduce the risk of getting another UTI. Discover our best tips and tricks for bladder infections - to get and stay fit again quickly.