UTI and I

Oh the UTI – scourge to anyone whose urinary tract sits close to where the fun stuff happens. UTIs (urinary tract infections), I have determined, should be added to the death and taxes list – and unfortunately so. 8.3 million women will have a UTI in their lifetimes, and it goes without saying that once you have one, you are more prone to getting another one.

I’m not sure what direction the stars were aligned when I was born, but I know that they doomed me to a lifetime of UTIs. My mom likes to recall that I was the only baby she ever heard of with a UTI, and I have a particularly horrifying memory of being five years old, on a doctor’s table with a catheter stuck up my little kid stuff. This caused me to release my bladder all over the examining tale, crying my little kid tears because it stings like nothing I have ever experienced. This would be a recurring sensation throughout my life, and in college I ended up in the hospital more than once from an undiagnosed UTI and the ensuing kidney infection from hell. Did I mention I was uninsured at the time?

So, if you are like me, you may have come to see UTIs as a part of your life. The least we can do until the manna from heaven, the UTI Vaccine is available, is to check ourselves, before we wreck ourselves – and know what to do if we come to that point.

UTIs are caused by bacteria that get inside the urinary tract and cling to the walls. Normally urine is sterile, but once bacteria are inside, they start to multiply and eventually end up in your bladder where the urine just becomes bacteria-laden. Because the urinary system is structured in a self-cleaning way, much like the vagina, urine becomes more acidic as an attempt to kill off the bacteria, thus what I like to call “fire caterpillar of death crawling through my urethra.” There are a few different types of UTIs, all of which depend on which part of the urinary tract system is infected, but cystitis is your run of the mill UTI. The most common symptoms usually include the frequent need to urinate, little to no urination, burning when urinating, cloudy and stinky urine, back pain, chills and fever, and absolute agony.

The best way to treat a UTI is to not get a UTI. Preventative is positive. If you are prone to UTIs, figure out what triggers you. The most common reasons UTIs happen are dehydration, holding your bladder, menstruation, pregnancy, diabetes, and sitting down for too long. If I go a long time without drinking water or if I drink too much coffee , you can bet the next day I’m going to have that terrifying pre-UTI tingle – so I try to avoid doing these things like the plague. A coffee is always followed by another glass of water.  But the number one reason for UTIs ? Sex. Always. Pee. After. Sex. Always. This is the number one way bacteria is transferred into the urethra – think of all the partying that is going on when we bump uglies: the friction, the sweat, the fun bodily fluids. It’s a hotbed for breeding some nasty stuff. And while the vagina can be pretty resilient, the urethra just ain’t there yet.

So, what happens if you do have a UTI? This is the not-so-fun part. When the fiery caterpillar of agony feels like it’s doing keg stands on your urinary tract, it’s time to take action. If you want to make absolutely sure that you have a UTI, you can always get AZO test strips which check the pH balance and white blood cell count in your urine. But let’s be honest – it’s pretty painfully obvious when you have a UTI, so there’s no real need other than your own reassurance, aka this might be a waste of your precious funds. First off, start drinking water – it’s not going to cure the problem, but the more urine that can go out, the better. Now, what to do in the meantime? Find some painkillers. Advil or ibuprofen won’t thin your blood and make you feel worse in your already crappy state. There are also some over-the-counter quick fixes: AZO Standard and Cystex. Both are about 10-12 dollars for a box of twenty pills.  They will take away the burning and sterilize the urine that’s already in your bladder. It won’t fix the problem altogether, but it buys you time until you can see someone. If you can’t shed the cash for these, mix up some warm water with a teaspoon of baking soda. It tastes awful, but it will neutralize the urines PH temporarily. I’ve had times where I’ve woken up 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning, knowing that Planned Parenthood isn’t open till Monday and been fully relieved that the pain has gone from pain cacophony to manageable yet annoying irritation from both of these options.

Have a doctor? Call that mo-fo. All my ladies without health insurance – can I get a holler for Planned Parenthood and your friendly local women’s clinic? Sliding scale payment thank you. When you go get checked out, you will most likely end up taking another urine test to check on how strong your infection is, where it is and what your white blood cell count looks like. And most likely they will put you on an antibiotic.

Ah yes, the antibiotic. There’s a whole lot of distrust around antibiotics – they make you feel like udder crap, you can build a resistance to them very easily and in the process of getting rid of the bad bacteria in your bladder, they can take out all the good bacteria in your body as well, leading to stomach problems, digestive problems and the UTI’s closest cousin, the yeast infection. They are also expensive. Antibiotics are usually a last ditch resort – but a necessary one. There’s a lot of speculation around natural cures that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Depending on how bad the infection is, a slight tingle or a burning ring of fire, always take it seriously.  More often than not, a course of antibiotics are going to be the routine. Take them as directed; don’t skip them or save some for the possible next time. A UTI can come back even worse even after a few days of antibiotics. To make sure that you don’t starve a UTI and feed a yeast infection, take probiotics with your antibiotics. Drink more fluids. Avoid smoking, acidic beverages like fruit juice, sodas, and especially grapefruit juice (it can negate the antibiotics). No cranberry juice unless its the real deal – most cranberry juices have sugar added and the sugar can not only feed the UTI, it can cause a yeast infection as well. No sex the entire time of your antibiotics course. Wear nice, breathable cotton undies and try to sleep without them at night. Drink more water.

And the follow up: drink more water, y’all. Staying hydrated and emptying your bladder at least every hour is a surefire way to prevent another UTI. Cranberry Pills are now part of my normal routine – most drugstores sell a generic brand for about 6$ if its something you can budget for. I also keep a stash of AZO pills in my bag, at my work, in my bathroom – everywhere,  just in case I ever feel that telling tingle. It’s not something that should be used as an every day supplement, but when you do start to feel something, pop one or two and flush yourself out with some water and try peeing at least once every thirty minutes. Another good option? Ask your clinician or doctor for an extra prescription for the next time it ever happens so you don’t have to go to the clinic, the doctor, or the torturous E.R. Having an emergency stash of antibiotics is a good backup and has proven effective if you’re traveling and / or may not have easy access to a doctor. And when it comes to sex? Always empty your bladder after sex; the sooner the better. If you use condoms, try using them without the spermicide. Spermicide is a known aggravant of the urethra and can transfer bacteria easily. Never lubricate with spit or silicone-based lubricant – irritation central. Anyone using the sponge ?  Also known to aggravate the urethra. Whether you and your partner are using dental dams, condoms, hormonal birth control, whatever your poison, use a water-based lubricant. Wash your hands before and after sex. And clean your sex toys! Both Babeland and Earth Erotics offer non-toxic and non-irritating lubes, toys, and other good stuff to keep you not only happy and safe, but less bacteria-prone. But most of all, just listen to your body – your your best resource on how you feel and what works for you and what hurts you.

UTIs are a scourge upon the innocent; a pox among all houses. The goal is to prevent it from ever happening and if it does, treating it quickly so you are back in shape and not going from awful to really awful. What say you, Persephone crew? Any good tried-and-true methods that have gotten you through those long stretches of the burning of a thousand suns ?


20 replies on “UTI and I”

when i was using implanon as my birth control, i always had the feeling like a UTI was brewing. as soon as i had the implant removed – poof! no more burning UTI pain.

any thoughts or info? i’ve always been curious about this but most of what i’ve seen online have been women wondering the same thing without any real answers.

I hate UTIs with a passion nearly as fiery as my urine when I have an active infection. If you get them a lot it is definitely worth asking your doctor for prophylactic antibiotics. I tend to get UTIs when I sleep with someone new (novel bacteria, how sexy!) and I can almost predict when it’s coming on, so I keep some antibiotics on hand and take a two day course as soon as I feel the infection coming on.

Also – it seems to be a bit of an old wives’ tale that added sugar in cranberry juice will feed the bacteria in your bladder. If you aren’t diabetic glucose will be filtered out by the kidney and there shouldn’t be any glucose in your urine by the time it reaches the bladder. I don’t want to start controversy or anything but my experience is that any cranberry juice is better than none at all, I just try to avoid the added sugar for the sake of my teeth.

Ugh, UTIs. I’m so glad I’m not particularly prone to them; I had my first one when I was about eight years old, and I remember waking up my mother in the middle of the night because I wanted to douse my private parts in cold water, they burned so much. She dosed me with baking soda, and voilà! It was gone the next day.
I think I’ve only had a couple since, and these days when I feel one coming on I dump a few drops of lemon oil in my water bottle, and it seems to do the trick. But that might be my imagination.

UTIs are thee bane of my friggin existence. My doctor got tired of seeing me, so she just wrote me a prescription for the antibiotic pills for basically the rest of my life. Mr. Sunshine is pretty good natured about it now. But for awhile he was pretty exasperated. I used to get them like every two weeks or something insane like that.. I just have to pee after sex (not sexy), and the only thing I drink is cranberry juice mixed with water ( literally..) so it’s under control…for now….

Azo is also sold as Uristat, and it is the most amazing invention ever. The first moment that you feel relief from that OMG WHY AM I ON FIRE? feeling can bring tears to your eyes. My new ladydoctor, upon hearing that I get chronic UTIs, ripped a piece of paper off his prescription pad, scribbled on it, and I had in my hands an antibiotic prescription (with refills!) so I never had to go into the office to be told what I already knew or have to suffer in the middle of the night or over a weekend ever again. I think I might have cried, knowing that a doctor understood the agony and was removing a barrier to access of the only thing that works. It’s amazing.

I guess we’re sharing UTI stories- I got my first one in HS and NO IDEA what was happening to me. I suffered 3 days having to pee every 5 minutes but not having any pee to come out- just burning. Finally I went to the doc, got prescribed Sulfa and broke out in hives (what a way to find out I’m allergic to sulfa drugs).

Anyways, now I get them a couple times a year. AZO is my friend (kept in my purse at all times-I thought I was the only one) until I can get to my doctor, because unfortunately, the only way mine go away at all is with antibiotics.

And I second what a previous commenter said- it’s worth going to get your pee tested by a doctor because they can see what strain of bacteria it is. I have had my medicine/antibiotics changed at least twice when they’ve found out it was a different bacteria.

Also, my new doctor told me on my last visit that when I first get symptoms I can just call the office (even on a weekend!) and they will immediately prescribe me an antibiotic to start taking while I wait to get an actual appointment (similar to Coco’s suggestion of having an extra stash). I lurve my new doctor.

I started getting them when I was about 14. Mine are a direct result of not peeing after sex, and at that point in my life after mutual masturbation/oral, but of course I did not realise this until two years of agony and bright red pee later when I read it on a helpful LadyBlog. This infuriates me: why, in school, when they were teaching us that penises go in vaginas and that we should wear deodorant and use condoms, did they not mention this? Did they not know? If so, it should be more common knowledge! They should tell everyone! Put it on billboards, post it in people’s letterboxes, skywrite it – pee after you bonk!

I used to get UTIs very often. Once I stopped being so promiscuous, the frequency lessened. I still got them- ironically- after gynecologist visits (and having “abnormal cells” made those visits more frequent). It turned out to be a latex allergy that triggered the infections.

After about 12 years of the agony so well-described above, I finally caved and had my doc prescribe post-coital antibiotics. My UTIs were 90% a direct result of sex, no matter how clean or how quickly I urinated after (especially if I was already a little sick or stressed). This probably isn’t a viable option if you don’t have insurance, but if you do, generic antibiotics are fairly cheap.

My doc looked through my records and identified the strain of bacteria that most often causes a problem. Here’s where the trip to the doc each time you have a UTI can be a major help– the urine test identifies the strain so you can keep track and use the right antibiotics. Once, an ER misdiagnosed and while I wasted a week on the wrong drugs, the infection worsened to a kidney infection.

Anyway, I held off for a long time because I’m afraid of resistance, but I finally agreed. I just couldn’t take the pain, sick-days, and doctor visits anymore. Now I take a 50mg dose after sex (still peeing and all the other good stuff). It’s been a full year and no infection. I also haven’t had to increase the dose. I don’t know how long I’ll continue, but for now it’s changed my life.

I’ve only had one (thank God) but it was the one time I’ve had unprotected sex, so I chalked it up to that. And my (former) GYNO tried to make me feel like a dirty slut for even getting one. Good to know they are quite common.

I had an ex who used to joke that he could tell when I was in the mood because I’d drink a glass of cranberry juice. I know it’s not a benefit to everyone but it seems to have helped me not get another UTI. Can’t hurt, right?

Oh, UTIs. I hate them. HATE. I don’t get them too often anymore, but I used to. Especially at the beginning of a relationship when you’re having tons of sex. I always make it a point to pee afterwards because just the thought of getting a UTI makes me want to cry.

That feeling of constantly having to pee, like you have to go so bad you’ll wet yourself, and then when you DO go, only a trickle comes out and that hurts so bad you want to punch someone.

Since I’m a poor freelancer with no health insurance I always have to self medicate with AZO, tons of cranberry juice and more water than I can possibly drink. Usually takes a good two or three days to knock them out.

Thanks for the home remedy tip, I had never heard that before. Will definitely try it and pass it on.

Just wanted to add – make sure that your lube is glycerin-free! Some women have no problems with glycerin but for many women who are prone to UTIs (or to yeast infections) it can really aggravate the problem. My friends who are prone to UTIs have had a range of experiences with lube – some of them can only use glycerin- and paraben-free water-based lube while one of them found that water-based lube actually causes problems for her and that silicone is more comfortable and doesn’t cause any issues. Whatever you use, always read the label and look up any ingredients you’re curious or concerned about.

My friend has described having a UTI as feeling like you’re pissing razor blades; I think it’s an accurate description. Another vote for AZO here, the extra-strength kind works really well to stop the pain until you can get in to see the doctor.

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