Chances are high that you’ve had a urinary tract infection, or UTI—and, if you haven’t, there are a lot of risk factors that could make you a candidate. Truth is, UTIs are one of the most common infections providers see. If you’re wondering, can UTIs go away on their own or do I need to get treated, Bilal Kaaki, MD, UnityPoint Health, has the answers, along with identifying what leads to UTIs and what doesn’t.
Bladder Infection vs. UTI
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is the same thing as a bladder infection. It’s a very common infection that occurs when bacteria gets inside the bladder. Dr. Kaaki says eight times out of 10, the bacteria that causes the bladder infection is E. coli. Most of the E. coli comes from the bowels, because the anus (opening to the digestive tract) is so close to the urethra (opening to the urinary tract).
“There is bacteria associated with several parts of the body, including the skin, vagina and colon,” Dr. Kaaki says. “However, there shouldn’t be any bacteria in the bladder. So, when bacteria goes in, it causes inflammation of the lining of the bladder, leading to an infection.”
Symptoms of a UTI typically involve lower abdominal discomfort. You might also feel burning during urination (dysuria), a need to use the restroom more often (urinary frequency) and sometimes a feeling like you can’t hold it (sense of urgency).
Can UTIs Go Away on Their Own?
“A bladder infection can get better on its own, but most of the time it doesn’t. That’s why the recommendation is treatment with an antibiotic,” Dr. Kaaki says.
The infection from an untreated UTI can eventually travel through the body, becoming very dangerous, even deadly.
“If a bladder infection goes untreated, it can become a kidney infection. A kidney infection is a much more serious infection, because the infection can travel to the blood stream, causing sepsis. Sepsis causes people to get very ill and can even be critical,” Dr. Kaaki says.
If you aren’t sure if you have a UTI or not, Dr. Kaaki suggests getting a urine test to see if there are any signs of infection. Once you’ve received the diagnosis, you’ll most likely be put on antibiotics that will leave you feeling better in just a few days.
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How to Get Rid of a UTI
Besides taking your antibiotic, Dr. Kaaki says there are three other things that can help with UTI treatment and prevention:
- Cranberry Juice
- Vitamin C
If you don’t feel better after you’re done taking your antibiotic, talk with your doctor. There is a chance your body has built up a resistance to the antibiotic, and you’ll need urine tests to determine a more specific medication to treat your infection.
What Causes a UTI?
You’re more likely to get a UTI if you’ve had one before, and your genetic background also plays a role. Dr. Kaaki identifies several other risk factors.
- Female anatomy. Since women have shorter urethras, UTIs are much more common in women than men. Men can still get bladder infections, but it’s much rarer.
- Intercourse. Sexual intercourse causes bacteria to get closer to the urethra and causes an increased risk of infection. That’s why the recommendation is to urinate after intercourse to help prevent the transmission of fecal bacteria to the bladder.
- Menopause. Due to the lack of estrogen, the vaginal tissue loses elasticity, which tends to allow more bacteria into the vagina, igniting infection. Postmenopausal women also tend to be candidates for recurrent UTIs, or UTIs that occur more frequently. One treatment for postmenopausal UTIs is vaginal estrogen.
- Obesity. If you compare 10 women who have body mass index (BMI) over 30 to 10 women who have BMI under 30, the ones who are obese have a higher risk of UTI. The theory behind it is that due to increases in the folds of the labia, more bacteria tends to be harbored there, and it can creep up and cause a bladder infection.
- Uncontrolled diabetes. People with uncontrolled diabetes have less immunity, so they are more prone to infection.
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What Doesn’t Cause a Urinary Tract Infection?
There are some common misconceptions surrounding bladder infection causes. Dr. Kaaki clears it all up for us.
- Holding urine. It doesn’t increase the odds of a UTI. However, it’s not a good habit and can cause other problems.
- Dehydration. It alone isn’t a cause either. However, if you do get a UTI, it’s a good idea to increase fluids to help the body fight the infection.
- Using feminine products. With proper use and good hygiene, there’s no increased risk of a UTI from using pads or tampons.
- Wiping technique. There is no evidence wiping causes bladder infection, but providers do recommend wiping from front to back, rather than back to front or back and forth to strengthen personal hygiene.
- Contagious. They are not contagious, so you can’t pass a UTI to your partner.
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