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Beginner’s Guide to Urinary Tract Infections

beginner guide to urinary tract infections utis

Whether or not you use catheters, it’s a good possibility you’ve experienced one of the most common types of bacterial infections in the world: urinary tract infections (UTIs). In particular, if you’re a woman, some sources estimate you may be almost twice as likely as men to contract a UTI in your lifetime. Additionally, people with spinal cord injuries (SCI) also experience a higher risk of UTIs.

Even if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid UTIs so far, you should stay updated about symptoms, treatment options, and UTI prevention tips. Our beginner’s guide to urinary tract infections has the info you need to know.

UTIs Defined: What Are Urinary Tract Infections?

What is a UTI? Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enter the urethra and multiply. This may happen during the insertion and removal of intermittent catheters. Unhygienic and non-sterile practices like washing and reusing may increase the risk of UTIs.

People commonly assume UTIs only affect the urethra. In fact, it can travel up the urinary system into the bladder, causing a bladder infection (cystitis). Additionally, if it isn’t caught in time, the kidneys can be affected too. At this stage, the infection that began as a UTI can become life-threatening.

However, we want to assure you that while most UTIs aren’t much fun, they’re mostly harmless as long as the infection is quickly treated.

Signs of a UTI and Treatment Options

fever with uti So what are the symptoms of a UTI? The signs of a UTI may vary from one person to another. Some people may notice that they have dark or bloody urine, while others may see only slight cloudiness. People with UTIs can also have varying levels of fever from mild to intense. One of the most common signs of a UTI is a burning sensation along with an increased urge to urinate.

Here are some common symptoms of UTIs:

  • Burning sensation or pain in the lower abdomen
  • Low-grade to high fever
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Frequent urge to urinate with little urine output

Some people may exhibit all of these symptoms, only a few, or none at all. In particular, people with a spinal cord injury or those who are paralyzed may not even notice symptoms like pain or burning until the infection is more advanced, causing fever and chills.

At the first sign of an infection, get in to see your doctor for diagnosis and quick treatment.

doctor diagnosis of uti
Be sure to visit your doctor at the first sign of a urinary tract infection.

UTI Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Are UTIs treatable? Yes! As said above, your best chance of beating your urinary tract infection is by seeing a prescribing healthcare professional as soon as possible. In the meantime, keep drinking plenty of water to help flush the bacteria concentrations out.

First, your physician will want to accurately diagnose the issue. Typically, this is done with a quick test of your urine sample, which is known as a urinalysis. Plus, your doctor will also likely want to do a full lab analysis with a urine culture test to determine what type of bacteria is causing the infection. This helps them narrow down the medication options that will work best in your case.

When it comes to treatment, a round of antibiotics is the first and often best option. Often this is enough to knock out your UTI.

However, for those who experience recurrent UTIs frequently, your doctor may look at alternate options. Severe infections may call for hospitalization, which is why it’s always best to seek treatment as soon as you think you have a UTI.

As you recover from your UTI, your doctor may recommend using a heating pad to relieve any abdominal pain. In the meantime, you may also want to up your intake of water to help flush bacteria out.

How to Prevent UTIs

Even the most cautious people can get UTIs sometimes. However, you always have options to take preventative steps and potentially reduce your risks.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, you may be able to help prevent UTIs better by staying hydrated with plenty of water and voiding your bladder throughout the day. This helps flush out bacteria trying to grow. Supplementing your diet with cranberries or cranberry extract, Vitamin C, and probiotics may help as well.

Preventing CAUTIs

Do you use catheters to drain your bladder? If so, you may have a higher risk of UTIs, also known as catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs). You may be able to better prevent your risk of this type of infection by practicing sterile intermittent catheterization instead of washing and reusing your catheters. Also, you may want to consider better hygienic practices when you self-catheterize.

1. Practice proper hygiene.

wash hands First, the most important preventative measure is sterilizing your hands prior to handling your catheter. Some people prefer to wash thoroughly with hot water and soap, while others prefer an alcohol-based hand rub. Adding sterile gloves to your cathing regimen is an extra safety measure that may help prevent any contamination of your catheter before insertion.

In addition, you may want to clean the area around the insertion point with an antibacterial solution, such as BZK (benzalkonium chloride) wipes or povidone-iodine swabs. This helps cut the concentrations of bacteria just outside the urethra.

2. Minimize urethral friction.

catheter lubricationYour urethra has delicate tissue that can be easily irritated. Not using enough lubrication when you cath can cause friction and even injury to your urethral tissue. If you use a straight uncoated catheter, be sure to use sterile lubricating jelly packets included with your order for individual use. Each packet usually contains anywhere from 3 to 5 grams of sterile lubrication that can help your intermittent catheter pass more smoothly.

You may also want to consider a type of catheter that is pre-lubricated or has a hydrophilic coating bonded to the catheter so it stays smooth and slippery throughout catheterization.

3. Evaluate the type of catheter you use.

For example, advanced catheter products like closed system catheter kits are designed to better reduce the risk of UTIs and CAUTIs. Most closed systems feature a pre-lubricated introducer tip that assists the tube in bypassing the highest concentrations of bacteria in the first few millimeters of the urethra. Plus, this catheter type is an all-in-one system that keeps you protected from potential hand contamination.

gentlecath hydro coude with handling strip Another example might be hydrophilic catheters, such as the popular GentleCath Glide for men and women. The Glide, in particular, is designed to keep cathing clean, convenient, and comfortable.

Most hydrophilic and pre-lubricated catheters will also feature an insertion sleeve to help you handle your catheter without directly touching the tube, thereby lessening the likelihood of UTIs. Plus, catheters that are well-lubricated can minimize friction to the urethra.

Where to Get Catheter Supplies

With nearly 2 decades of experience in helping people across the country find the catheter that works best for their needs, 180 Medical is here for you. Our customers trust our reliable shipments, our incredibly wide range of high-quality catheters from top brands, and our compassionate care that comes from the heart.

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Whether you want to see if your insurance covers advanced products or you want to try a free sample to see what works best for you, our Catheter Specialists are ready to help! Get started by filling out the contact form to the right or accessing our online Live Chat during business hours.

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About the Author
Beginner’s Guide to Urinary Tract Infections
Jessica is the Sr. Marketing Specialist at 180 Medical, and she has been with the company for over 14 years now. She loves getting to be creative in her role and hearing from customers about the positive impact we've made on their lives.

Outside of work, you can find her hanging out with her husband and their dogs or browsing garden centers (where she will almost certainly buy another houseplant she doesn't really need).