What You Need to Know About UTIs

Burning when you urinate. A frequent urge to urinate. Pain in your back or abdomen. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? These are all symptoms of a urinary tract infection, or UTI, for short. Studies show that people with Type 2 diabetes[1] have a greater risk of getting a UTI than people without diabetes. Despite the fact that UTIs are common, they can also lead to more serious situations if they’re not caught and treated.

What is a UTI, anyway?

A UTI is an infection in your urinary tract. Your urinary tract includes your kidneys, bladder, ureters, urethra, and, in men, prostate. Most UTIs occur in your bladder, the organ that stores your urine.

What causes a UTI?

A UTI is caused by bacteria, usually from the bowels. Normally, the urinary tract system has safeguards to protect against infection. For example, the ureters, which are the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder, have one-way valves to prevent urine from backing up into the kidneys. The process of emptying your bladder (called urination) also helps to flush out bacteria and other microbes. And a healthy immune system helps protect against infection, as well.

Why are UTIs more common in people with diabetes?

UTIs are the second most common type of infection. Women are 10 times more likely to get a UTI than men because of their anatomy. In fact, more than 50% of women will have a UTI at some point in their lives. If you’re a woman with Type 2 diabetes, your risk may be even higher, according to two studies. In one study, 9% of the subjects with diabetes had UTIs compared with 6% of those without diabetes. And the second study showed that people with diabetes had a 60% higher risk of getting a UTI compared to those without diabetes.

Why are people with diabetes more prone to UTIs? There are likely several reasons. First, people with diabetes may have poor circulation, which reduces the ability of white blood cells to travel in the body and fight off any kind of infection. Second, high blood glucose levels can also raise the risk of a UTI. And third, some people with diabetes have bladders that don’t empty as well as they should[2]. As a result, urine stays in the bladder too long and becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

Signs and symptoms of a UTI include:

• Pain or burning when you urinate

• Feeling like you have to urinate all the time even though no urine may come out

• Strong-smelling urine

• Urine that is cloudy, dark, or bloody

• Fever or chills

• Pain in your back or abdomen

How are UTIs diagnosed?

You’ll need to see your health-care provider right away if you have any of the above symptoms. Once you’re in the doctor’s office, you’ll be asked to give a urine sample, which will be tested for bacteria. Other tests can be used, too, to diagnose UTIs, such as ultrasound, MRI, and CT scan, especially if you keep getting UTIs.

How are UTIs treated?

If your urine tests positive for bacteria, your provider will prescribe an antibiotic, usually for three days, but maybe longer if the infection is more serious. Not getting a UTI treated can lead to a kidney infection, which can increase the risk of kidney damage. You might see over-the-counter products for a UTI at your local drugstore. These are not a treatment for a UTI, but they may help relieve some of the pain and burning. However, don’t take these without first checking with your provider or pharmacist.

Can UTIs be prevented?

Yes! Although having diabetes puts you at a higher risk for a UTI, you can take steps to prevent it.

• Try to keep blood glucose levels within your target range as much as possible.

• Drink plenty of fluids (mostly water).

• Consider drinking low-sugar cranberry juice (not cranberry juice cocktail) or taking cranberry supplements. Cranberries are thought to contain substances that prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

• Eat yogurt that contains healthful bacteria called probiotics[3]. Or, talk to your provider about taking a probiotic supplement that contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Lactobacillus reuteri.

• Wear cotton underwear.

• Urinate after having intercourse to help flush away any bacteria.

• Urinate frequently. Don’t hold your urine in for too long.

• Wipe from front to back after using the toilet.

•For women, using certain types of birth control, like the diaphragm or spermicides, may increase the risk for UTIs. Talk to your provider about possibly switching if you think this may be a cause of UTIs for you.

Want to know more about urinary tract health? Read “Diabetes and Chronic UTIs: Questions and Answers,”[4] “What Is Your Urine Trying to Tell You?”[5] and “Resolving Diabetes-Related Bladder Problems.”[6]

Endnotes:
  1. Type 2 diabetes: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/diabetes-definitions/type-2-diabetes
  2. bladders that don’t empty as well as they should: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/diabetic-complications/resolving-diabetes-related-bladder-problems/
  3. probiotics: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/nutrition-exercise/nutrition/probiotics-and-prebiotics/
  4. “Diabetes and Chronic UTIs: Questions and Answers,”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/womens-health/diabetes-and-chronic-utis-diabetes-questions-answers/
  5. “What Is Your Urine Trying to Tell You?”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/what-is-your-urine-trying-to-tell-you/
  6. “Resolving Diabetes-Related Bladder Problems.”: https://dsm.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/complications-prevention/resolving-diabetes-related-bladder-problems/

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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