Ah, the familiar tingle as you tinkle. Time for another fun spin with your old friend, UTI!
Urinary-related infections are extremely common, especially for those of us with a urethra next door to a vagina and anus. The proximity of the urethral opening to the places out of which we defecate or sexually penetrate makes women ultra prone to urinary tract infections or worse, full-on kidney infections.
Though unrelated, kidney stones can cause similar symptoms and just as many health issues when not treated properly.
Drinking your 8 daily glasses of water and always urinating before and after sex are the only surefire ways to attempt to avoid these potty plagues. However, most women will wind up experiencing, at the very least, a mild UTI at least in their lives.
It’s important to know the difference between an easily curable infection of the urinary tract and a serious bacterial infection that’s spread to the kidneys, often requiring hospitalization. We’ve put together some basic facts on the most typical urinary-related health issues so you’ll know when to hustle to the doctor.
UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)
Women are more likely to suffer from Urinary Tract Infections – aka UTIs – because their urethra are shorter than men’s. Having sex, even with a monogamous partner, or using penetrative sex toys can push bacteria into the urinary tract, so be sure to drink water and take a lengthy pee after sexual activity to flush out any nasty bugs that might have wandered in.
UTIs are incredibly common for women. If you’ve never suffered from one, you’re extremely lucky! But you’ll know if you have. Your urine will turn cloudy white or yellow and smell like a sulfur pit straight out of the depths of hell. It will also hurt like the devil while taking a leak, and you’ll likely feel the need to run to the toilet constantly, only to find that only a few, painful drips leak out.
Many women have been-there, done-that with UTIs and already have an at-home remedy in mind, like over-the-counter anti-bacterial pills that also numb the pain, or a serious flush with clean water. Some women have even claimed that drinking kombucha – full of healthy probiotics – and loads of water does the trick, but only attempt at-home remedies if your symptoms are mild and you’re familiar with how your body reacts.
If you’ve chosen natural, at-home UTI treatment methods, monitor your symptoms closely and see a doctor if they persist for more than a couple days without relief or symptoms worsen. If you’re on prescription meds, take your pills exactly as instructed and finish out the entire bottle, even if your symptoms taper off with medication left to spare.
Skipping doses of prescription UTI meds can make the bacteria treatment-resistant in the future, ending in a hospital stay or a kidney infection, which we’ll go on to describe below.
If there is blood in your urine or you’re experiencing serious pain, get to a doctor no matter what, as it could be something far more serious.
If you don’t treat a UTI quickly enough, it can spread and cause a full-blown kidney infection. As bacteria levels grow out of control, the UTI bug travels from your urethra to the bladder and eventually up the ureters, which connect the kidneys to the bladder.
A kidney infection can become life-threatening within moments. The symptoms are similar to that of a UTI but much stronger and more painfully obvious, and they may include bloody urine, fever, chills, or back or abdominal pain.
Sometimes a kidney infection is the result of a blockage to the urine flow. You might need intravenous fluids and a hospital stay to recover.
Left untreated, a kidney infection can cause permanent kidney damage, kidney disease requiring dialysis, and in the absolute worst case, turn septic and thus deadly. If you’re feeling like you’ve got a UTI accompanied by nausea or vomiting and full-body symptoms of illness and pain, head straight to an emergency room.
Remember when we told – nay, warned – you about the importance of drinking water? We weren’t kidding.
Your kidneys filter toxins from the body, but they need daily cleansing of their own to function properly. Without a constant supply of water to flush them out, hard deposits of minerals and acid salts can build up in your kidneys, causing all sorts of issues and pain that go beyond a tingle when you pee.
Depending on size, a kidney stone may pass naturally but painfully through your system on it’s own, or it may be so large that it cannot fit through your ureters or even blocks the flow of urine and requires surgery. In the case of the latter, again, a serious infection can occur and you’ll need to see a doctor immediately.
The symptoms of a kidney stone can be very similar to that of a kidney infection – just another reason not to try to pass the stone at home without getting professional advice. Think of the nastiest UTI symptoms – cloudy or bloody urine, a sulfur smell when you pee, and pain in your urethra or ureters, which manifests as back pain – and add in the potential for fever or chills.
Yeah, just trust us and see a doctor ASAP. You don’t want to mess around with kidney stones and potentially damage your internal organs.
But what about cranberry juice?
The jury is still out on whether cranberry juice actually helps prevent or cure common, treatable illnesses of the urinary system. Some studies have shown it can potentially help as a long-term treatment for sufferers of frequent UTIs, though the active ingredient – A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs) – said to make the urinary tract walls too slippery to hold bacteria isn’t considered plentiful enough.
It couldn’t hurt to add it into your diet if you enjoy drinking the tart juice, but there are far better preventative measures of which to make a habit.
Always wipe front to back when using the restroom to prevent spreading bacteria from your anus to the urethra and vagina. Drink plenty of water to continuously flush your urethra and kidneys each and every day. Clean your sex toys before and after use, and do the same for you and your partner’s genitals before engaging in play.
And always pop a squat on the toilet after sex! Your bodily fluids are something to be enjoyed, though your sensitive urethra doesn’t necessarily agree.
Colleen began her sexual wellness career as a sex toy educator in manufacturing and retail. She has since branched out as a writer and marketer, covering all facets of sexual health and anatomy. At Intimina, she specializes in women’s medical care and health concerns, menstruation, sex and pregnancy, and birth control. Colleen frequently confers with top sex educators and intimate wellness experts to stay on top of the constantly changing sexual wellness space.