Scientists estimate that half of all women experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their lives. Recurrent bouts affect 20 to 40 percent of these patients. Escherichia coli (E. coli) is responsible for up to 80 percent of these common bacterial infections. This organism is harmless in your small intestine, where it resides normally. But it can create havoc when it invades your urinary tract. If a UTI spreads to your kidneys and bloodstream, serious complications can result.
New Study Pinpoints Repetitive UTI Cause
In previous studies on mice at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., scientists found that immune system overreaction to an initial urinary tract infection may increase vulnerability to subsequent bouts. Thomas Hannan, DVM, PhD, research instructor in pathology and immunology, and his colleagues continued their work reduce reinfection rates.
During the new study, they determined that specific reactions to the COX-2 protein that’s responsible for inflammation and pain cause repeated UTIs. They discovered evidence in women and mice that neutrophil immune cells are significant contributors to returning infections. In their eagerness to break into the bladder to fight UTIs, neutrophils leave tracks in its protective lining. The scientists believe that excessive damage from these cells may provide footholds that let other bacteria grasp the bladder lining and establish severe infections.
“We thought that the immune response was too weak in patients who kept getting urinary tract infections, but we are learning that an overly strong immune response can be just as problematic,” Hannan said.
NSAIDS Reduce Bladder Inflammation
The researchers found that mice with increased vulnerability to repeat UTIs had more inflammatory molecules in their bladders than those that were resistant to recurrence. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) block the COX-2 protein. So the study team used common painkillers like Ibuprofen to manipulate the neutrophil response strength. They achieved immune reactions that weren’t too weak or too strong. Treatment reduced COX-2 inflammatory reactions and other UTI risk factors dramatically in mice with previous UTIs. NSAIDs decreased susceptibility to recurring infections in previously infected mice and those that hadn’t experienced earlier UTIs.
Upon examining the effects of COX-2 inhibition on the bladder’s immune response, the study team found that neutrophils still came into the bladder in large numbers. But the drug reaction targeted only specific areas with inflammation and controlled damage to the protective lining. The researchers concluded that COX-2 suppressors are able to target the detrimental effects of inflammation selectively while maintaining beneficial responses.
“These are encouraging results, and we hope to verify the potential benefits of COX-2 inhibitors soon in a large clinical trial,” said senior author Scott Hultgren, PhD, the Helen L. Stoever professor of molecular microbiology who directs the Center for Women’s Infectious Disease Research.
Can You Recognize UTI Symptoms?
A urinary tract infection involves the structures that urine passes through before elimination from your body. As a rule, the farther up in the urinary tract your infection occurs, the more serious it is. A UTI in your upper urinary tract affects your kidneys (pyelonephritis) generally. An infection in the lower portion can disturb your bladder (cystitis) or urethra (urethritis).
The painful and frequent urination of bladder and kidney infections is common in women due to multiple reasons including their anatomy, sexual intercourse, pregnancy and intimate hygiene product usage. You may experience frequent urges to urinate — even when your bladder is empty. A burning sensation may occur each time you urinate. Your urine may be cloudy and tinged with blood. A kidney infection can cause lower back pain, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting and other severe symptoms.
Seek Prescription Antibiotic Treatment
The study authors believe their results will help develop new methods to reduce the risk of persistent urinary tract infections but won’t replace traditional antibiotic treatment. Hannan cautioned that UTIs are serious medical conditions. Patients shouldn’t treat them on their own because antibiotic treatment often is necessary. In the United States, urinary tract infections account for more than 7 million visits to medical offices and hospitals each year. After confirming your diagnosis with a urinalysis, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic like Nitrofurantoin.
Adopt a Healthy Lifestyle
Many healthy habits can help control urinary tract infection symptoms and prevent returning problems.
Apply heat to your pelvic area to ease the pain — even when you aren’t urinating. Use a heating pad or wrap a bottle of hot water in a towel.
Don’t smoke because it can irritate your bladder and even cause bladder cancer.
Drink plenty of water to flush out your system and maintain hydration.
Unsweetened cranberry juice contains a substance that helps prevent bacteria from adhering to bladder walls. It’s helpful for women with recurrent UTIs.
Drink a mixture of ½ teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of water. It neutralizes the acid in your urine to help relieve pain and burning while urinating.
Avoid alcohol, caffeinated beverages and sugary drinks.
Improper genital hygiene can lead to UTIs. After urinating, wipe from front to back to avoid germs from your anus reaching your urethra. Urinate after sexual intercourse to flush out any germs that may have ventured into your urinary tract. Whenever possible, wash your genitals after using the toilet. Following these tips and seeking prompt medical treatment for any UTI that occurs will help you avoid the pain and inconvenience of this common condition.