Nearly one in two women will experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their lives. Being extremely common, UTIs can affect women of all ages, and it’s important to know that pregnant women are not immune to the condition.
You are still susceptible to urinary tract infections during pregnancy, and this can be quite irritating. Here is a guide to detecting and managing them.
A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract, which is made up of the kidneys, ureter, bladder and urethra. Women are more likely to develop UTIs because they have shorter urethras than men – measuring around just four centimetres long. This means bacteria can enter the urinary tract more easily. If left untreated, a UTI can lead to kidney or bladder infections, which are far more serious. This is why it’s so important to see your doctor as soon as symptoms appear.
What Is A UTI?
A UTI is caused by a bacterium. Normal urine is sterile and has no bacteria in it. A variety of bacteria can cause infections, and this is why your doctor will do a urine culture test if you think you might have a UTI.
When this infection occurs in the urethra, it is known as urethritis. When it occurs in the kidneys it is known as pyelonephritis. An infection occurring in the bladder is cystitis. Cystitis is more likely to develop during pregnancy.
A UTI can be brought on by various factors. The most common include dehydration, holding in urination, poor genital hygiene and sexual intercourse. Being pregnant also means you are more susceptible to UTIs. This is attributed to all those bodily changes. Your uterus grows throughout pregnancy and can impact the ability of the bladder to completely drain itself. This can lead to infections in the urinary system.
What Are the Symptoms of a UTI?
The most typical symptoms you may experience with a urinary tract infection are:
• Pain or burning during urination
• Pain during intercourse
• Constant need to urinate
• Bad smelling, cloudy or reddish urine
• Slight fever
• Pain in the kidneys
• Pressure in your lower back or abdomen
Be wary of a higher fever, substantial pain in the kidneys, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting. If you experience these more severe symptoms, it can indicate a kidney infection. If a kidney infection is left untreated, it may lead to complications during pregnancy such as premature birth.
What Happens If I Get a UTI During Pregnancy?
There are simple and effective ways to treat a UTI, even for pregnant women. If you develop a UTI during pregnancy, you will likely be prescribed a low dose of antibiotics lasting for three to seven days. This will rid your body of the bacteria causing the infection. If diagnosed with a kidney infection during pregnancy, you may need to be admitted to hospital and receive antibiotics through an intravenous drip.
If you frequently get UTIs, it might be worthwhile discussing a treatment and management plan with your doctor. This may involve taking a low-dose of antibiotics for a longer period of time.
Antibiotics used to treat UTIs are generally safe to take during pregnancy. You may also be advised to take a low dose of paracetamol for pain relief. Be sure to chat to your doctor about treatment as soon as you notice symptoms of a UTI.
How Can I Avoid Getting a UTI During Pregnancy?
UTI’s are frustrating, especially during pregnancy. You can follow all the tips, tricks and old wives’ tales in the world, but still develop a UTI. If you are disposed to developing the infection, here are some ways to reduce your chances:
• Drink plenty of water to flush out the urinary tract
• Don’t hold your urine in as an un-emptied bladder can assist growth of bacteria
• Choose showers over baths
• Always wipe front to back
• Clean your genitals before and after sex
• Urinate right before and certainly after having sex
• Consider changing your form of contraception if using a diaphragm or spermicidal lubricant
• Wear loose-fitting clothes and underwear made of breathable cotton
• Maintain a balanced diet, as some foods may worsen the symptoms of existing UTIs
If you have any questions about treating UTIs, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Dr Bevan Brown is one of the most trusted gynaecologist and obstetricians in Sydney. Personalised care and strong relationships with our patients is of utmost importance!