What is a chronic urinary tract infection?
Chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs) are infections of the urinary tract that refuses to respond to treatment, or when it responds, it keeps recurring. They may either continue to affect your urinary tract in spite of getting the right treatment, or they may persist after treatment.
Your urinary tract is the pathway that makes up your urinary system. It includes the following:
- Your kidneys which filter your blood and generate body waste in the form of urine.
- Your ureters which are the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
- Your bladder which collects and stores urine.
- Your urethra which is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of your body.
Urinary tract infection can affect any part of your urinary system. When an infection only affects your bladder, it’s usually a trivial illness that can be easily treated. However, if it spreads to your kidneys, you may suffer from serious health complications which may require you to be hospitalized.
READ ALSO: Urinary Tract Infections, UTIs in Men
UTIs can happen to anyone at any age, but they’re more predominant in women.
What are the symptoms of a chronic urinary tract infection?
The symptoms of a chronic UTI affecting your bladder include:
- Bloody or dark-coloured urine
- Frequent urination
- Burning sensation while urinating
- pain in your kidneys, which means in your lower back or below your ribs
- pain in your bladder region
If the UTI spreads to your kidneys, it might cause:
- nausea or vomiting
- mental disorientation
- high fever that is above 101°F (38°C)
Causes of Chronic Urinary Tract Infections
A bacterial infection causes UTI. The bacteria can enter the urinary system through the urethra, and then they multiply in the bladder. UTIs can best be classified into bacterial infection and urethral infections
The bacteria E. coli is responsible for infections of the bladder. E. coli normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals. It doesn’t cause any problems in its normal state. However, if it finds its way out of the intestines and into the urinary tract, it can cause severe infection. Foamy urine can be a symptom of bladder infection.
Bladder infection occurs when tiny or even infinitesimal bits of feces get into the urinary tract. This might happen during sex. This can happen if you switch between anal and vaginal sex without cleaning in between. Anal sex increases your UTI risk considerably. Also, bladder infections can also develop from toilet water backsplash or by improper wiping.
Urethral infections is also known as urethritis. It can also be caused by the bacteria E. coli. Urethritis can also be the result of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). STIs include gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes.
Risk for Chronic Urinary Tract Infection
Chronic UTIs are most common in women. This is because the urethra is close to the rectum in women. As a result, it’s very easy for bacteria from the rectum to reach the urethra, especially after wiping back to front instead of front to back.
Also, a woman is more prone to developing UTIs because her urethra is shorter than a man’s. This means that bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to get to the bladder, where they can multiply and cause infection.
There are lifestyle factors that can put you at extra risk of developing a chronic UTI. These includes:
- Using diaphragms
- Vaginal douches
- Certain oral antibiotics
Diaphragms push up against the urethra, making it harder to fully empty your bladder. The urine can become a breeding place for bacteria if it fails to empty on time.
Douching and use of spermicides changes the bacterial makeup of the vagina. This can increase your risk of developing a chronic UTI.
Men are less likely than women to get a UTI, either acute or chronic. The most common reason men develop chronic UTIs is an enlarged prostate. When the prostate is enlarged, the bladder does not empty entirely which can cause bacteria to breed.
Menopause causes hormone changes that leads changes in your vaginal bacteria. This can increase your risk of chronic UTIs. There are also other risks for UTIs in older adults.
Diagnosing Chronic Urinary Tract Infection
The most common method of diagnosing UTIs is to perform lab tests on a sample of urine. A medical professional will examine the sample of urine under a microscope, looking for signs of bacteria.
A technician places a urine sample in a tube to encourage the growth of bacteria in a urine culture test. After one to three days, they’ll look at the bacteria to determine the best treatment.
If your doctor suspects kidney damage, they may order X-rays and kidney scans. These imaging devices take pictures of parts inside your body.
A doctor may perform a cystoscopy in cases of recurrent UTIs. This involves your doctor using a cystoscope (long, thin tube with a lens at the end used to look inside your urethra and bladder) to look for any abnormalities or issues that could cause the UTI to keep coming back.
How is a chronic urinary tract infection treated?
A course of antibiotics delivered over one week is the primary treatment for UTIs.
However, if you have chronic UTIs, your doctor may prescribe long-term, low-dose antibiotics for more than one week after the initial symptoms lessen. In many cases, this helps prevent symptoms from recurring. Your doctor may also recommend a course of treatment in which you take antibiotics after each time you have intercourse.
Your doctor will want you to monitor your urinary system more closely apart from the antibiotics.
If your chronic UTIs occur with menopause, you may want to consider vaginal estrogen therapy. If you’re currently infected, you may experience burning sensation while passing out urine. Your doctor may prescribe pain medication to numb your bladder and urethra. This will reduce the burning sensation.
Drinking cranberry juice daily can help lessen recurrences among those who have chronic UTIs, according to studies. Talk to your doctor first if you take blood-thinning drugs.
Another natural remedy is to drink lots of water. Drinking plenty of water can help dilute your urine and flush out the bacteria in your urinary tract.