Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria and are 10 times more common among women than men. More than 50% of women will have at least one UTI during their lifetime; for most of these infections, patients need to see a doctor and be treated with antibiotics. About 30 - 40% of UTIs recur within 6 months after the initial episode. When UTIs do recur, it is often because the treatments used to suppress bacteria seem to work at first, but they do not produce a lasting cure. UTIs can also recur if a woman is infected by different bacteria.
Signs and Symptoms
- Pain or burning during urination
- The need to urinate more often than usual
- A feeling of urgency during urination
- Blood or pus in the urine
- Cramps or pain in the lower abdomen
- Chills or fever (fever may be the only symptom in infants and children)
- Strong smelling urine
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Nausea, vomiting, and malaise
What Causes It?
Risk factors include:
- A new sex partner or multiple partners
- More frequent or intense intercourse
- Escherichia coli (E. coli)
- Staphylococcus saprophyticus
- Use of irritating products, such as harsh skin cleansers
- Use of irritating contraceptives, such as diaphragms and spermicides
- Use of birth control pills
- Heavy use of antibiotics
- A blockage in the urinary tract (benign masses or tumors)
- A history of UTIs, especially if infections are less than 6 months apart
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your health care provider will feel your abdomen and kidneys for changes and use laboratory tests, such as a urine culture, to find out if you have a UTI. If the usual treatments do not work, your health care provider will explore the possibility that you have some other condition. Other illnesses, such as sexually transmitted diseases, can cause symptoms that mimic a UTI.
Doctors may presecribe antibiotics or other drugs to treat UTIs. The course for most antibiotics is 7 - 10 days, though shorter courses of treatment are also available.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Some complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies may be helpful for UTIs, but they may not be right for every patient. Natural medicines and supplements may interact with prescription medications. Work with a knowledgeable health care provider, and always tell all of your health care providers about the herbs and supplements you are taking.
Nutrition and Supplements
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
- Drink a lot of fluids, such as herbal teas and water. Avoid sweetened fruit juices and other sweetened drinks.
- Cranberries and blueberries contain substances that inhibit the binding of bacteria to bladder tissue. Drinking unsweetened cranberry juice regularly helps lower the risk of UTIs.
- Try to eliminate potential food allergens, including dairy, wheat (gluten), corn, preservatives, and food additives. Your health care provider may want to test for food sensitivities. If you are susceptible to UTIs, drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry pills may help prevent recurrence.
- Eat antioxidant-rich foods, including fruits (such as blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes), and vegetables (such as squash and bell peppers).
- Eat more high fiber foods, including beans, oats, root vegetables (such as potatoes and yams), and psyllium seed.
- Avoid refined foods, such as white breads, pastas, and especially sugar.
- Eat fewer red meats and more lean meats, cold water fish, tofu (if no allergy to soy is present), or beans for protein.
- Use healthy cooking oils, such as olive oil or coconut oil.
- Reduce or eliminate trans fatty acids, found in commercially baked goods, such as cookies, crackers, cakes, French fries, onion rings, donuts, processed foods, and margarine.
- Avoid coffee and other stimulants, alcohol, and tobacco.
- Drink 6 - 8 glasses of filtered water daily.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week.
You may address nutritional deficiencies with the following supplements:
- A multivitamin daily, containing the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, the B-complex vitamins and trace minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, and selenium.
- Vitamin C, 500 - 1,000 mg 1 - 2 times daily, as an antioxidant and for immune support.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, 1 - 2 capsules or 1 tablespoonful oil 1 - 2 times daily, to help decrease inflammation and promote general health. Cold water fish, such as salmon or halibut, are good sources. Fish oil supplements can increase the effects of certain blood-thinning medications.
- IP-6 (Inositol hexophosphonate), 1 - 8 grams daily on an empty stomach, for kidney health. Check with your health care provider for proper dosing. IP-6 can bind to calcium and iron in the digestive tract and therefore reduce the amount of calcium and iron your body absorbs from the diet. There is some concern that IP-6 may interfere with blood clotting. Use caution if you have a clotting disorder or take blood-thinning medications. Speak with your doctor.
- L-glutamine, 500 - 1,000 mg 3 times daily, for support of gastrointestinal health and immunity. Glutamine may increase the risk of mania or seizures in susceptible people and may interfere with some anticonvulsant medications. Glutamine may interact with Lactulose and some chemotherapy drugs.
- Probiotic supplement (containing Lactobacillus acidophilus), 5 - 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) a day, for maintenance of gastrointestinal and immune health. There is strong scientific evidence to support the use of probiotics for urological conditions. Refrigerate probiotic supplements for best results.
- Grapefruit seed extract (Citrus paradisi), 100 mg capsule or 5 - 10 drops (in favorite beverage) 3 times daily, for antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral activity. Grapefruit may interact with a wide variety of medications. Speak with your doctor.
Natural hormone replacement therapy may help prevent UTIs. Ask your health care provider about this treatment.
Herbs may help strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider before starting treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, or teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted. Many herbs interact with medications, so tell your doctor about any herbal therapies you are using or considering using. The following herbs may be useful for short term treatment of a urinary tract infection.
- Green tea (Camellia sinensis) standardized extract, 250 - 500 mg daily, for antioxidant, anticancer and immune effects. Use caffeine free products. You may also prepare teas from the leaf of this herb.
- Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) standardized extract, 20 mg 3 times a day, for anticancer, immune and antibacterial or antifungal activity. Cat's claw can interact with many different medications. Speak to your health care provider. Do not take cat's claw if you have leukemia or autoimmune disease.
- Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) standardized extract, 150 - 300 mg 2 - 3 times daily, for anticancer and immune effects. You may also take a tincture of this mushroom extract, 30 - 60 drops 2 - 3 times a day. High doses of reishi may have a blood-thinning effect. Speak to your doctor if you are on blood-thinning medications or medications for high blood pressure.
- Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) seed standardized extract, 80 - 160 mg 2 - 3 times daily, for detoxification support. People who have a history of hormone-related cancer should use caution before taking milk thistle as it may have estrogen like properties. Milk thistle may interact with a wide variety of medications. Speak with your doctor.
- Uva-ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) standardized extract, 250 - 500 mg 3 times daily for no more than 4 days. You may also prepare teas from the leaf of this herb. Uva-ursi may interact with lithium.
- Buchu (Barosma betulina) 200 mg 1 - 3 times daily for antibacterial effects. Buchu can interact with lithium and with blood thinning medications. Some health experts advise against using buchu when there is inflammation of the urinary tract. Speak with your doctor.
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. Professional homeopaths, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for UTI based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
- Apis mellifica -- for stinging or burning pains that tend to worsen at night and from warmth. This remedy is appropriate for people who feel an intense urge to urinate, yet can only do so in drops.
- Aconitum -- for early symptoms of UTI, particularly with extremely painful urination that is often described as a hot sensation.
- Berberis -- for UTIs with burning or shooting pain during urination that may radiate to the pelvis or back. When not urinating, an aching sensation is present in the bladder that worsens with movement. Pain may also extend to legs and abdomen.
- Cantharis -- this is the most common and considered the most effective homeopathic remedy for UTI. This remedy is most appropriate for people who are restless, experience a burning sensation and decreased urine flow (despite a strong desire to urinate), and have increased sexual desire despite symptoms.
- Mercurius -- for burning urination and a strong urge to urinate. Symptoms worsen at night and tend to be accompanied by chills and sweating. Urine is dark and only small amounts pass. Burning sensation is often worse when the individual is not urinating.
- Nux vomica -- for people who have a constant urge to urinate. Pain is described as needle like. The urge to have a bowel movement may accompany urinary urgency. Some people experience mild, temporary relief from urination and warm baths. Symptoms may begin following ingestion of alcohol, coffee, drugs, or overeating.
- Pulsatilla -- for bladder inflammation that begins after an individual develops a sudden chill in hot weather. This remedy is most appropriate for people with an urgent desire to urinate who may be emotional, crave attention, and dribble urine after laughing, coughing, sneezing, or being surprised.
- Sarsaparilla -- for women who experience severe pain at the end of urination and who, occasionally, feel compelled to stand to urinate.
- Staphysagria -- for UTIs usually associated with sexual intercourse or following extreme embarrassment or humiliation, particularly from sexual abuse. This remedy is most appropriate for those who have an urgent desire to urinate and have the sensation that a single drop of urine is still present even following urination.
Preventive measures you can follow:
- Urinate both before and after intercourse.
- Have your health care provider recheck the fit of your diaphragm if you use one.
- Avoid sex while you are being treated for a UTI.
If you are pregnant, you are at higher risk of developing a UTI.
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Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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