Want to keep your kidneys healthy - just add water
The recent “Wee Week” organised by Kidney Health Australia has once again stressed the need keep our insides well hydrated to ensure we have a healthy urinary tract, free from infection.
Urinary tract infections, generally called simply UTIs are amongst the most common of infections treated by doctors. About 1 in 2 women and 1 in 20 men will get at least one UTI during their lifetime.
UTIs can involve just about any part of the urinary tract – the body’s plumbing, filtration and liquid waste disposal system. The kidneys and the bladder can be affected, as can the ureter and the urethra – the “pipes” which carry urine to and from the bladder.
Bacteria which normally live harmlessly in the intestine or the bowel are the usual suspects for causing UTIs. If these bacteria manage to spread from the anus (the back passage) into the urethra and then further into the urinary system, they can cause some rather nasty and discomforting conditions.
Urethritis is the medical term describing the infection when just the urethra is affected. If the infection spreads to the bladder causing the bladder lining to become raw and inflamed the condition is known as cystitis; whereas pyelonephritis is the name for the infection if it spreads to the kidneys.
All these conditions can cause a prickly, scalding or burning sensation when passing urine, and the urge to urinate frequently. If the bladder and kidney are affected, the urine might be cloudy or bloody and you may experience lower abdominal or back pain. Kidney related infections are potentially very serious and need prompt treatment to avoid kidney damage.
Mild cystitis can sometimes be treated effectively by drinking plenty of fluids (preferably water) to flush the bugs out the system, whilst often a urinary alkaliniser – something to make the urine less acid – will also help. Some studies have shown that cranberry juice or cranberry extract tablets may assist in preventing symptoms of cystitis in people who are susceptible to repeat infections. It seems cranberries contain a substance that can help prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder. However, results from the studies are not so positive for elderly men and women.
Women, generally, are more likely than men to suffer with UTIs because the urethra is so short. Also, female hormones can affect urine acidity making it more likely the offending organisms can thrive – especially at certain times of the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy and menopause or after a hysterectomy. Sexually active women are more at risk because sex can push the bacteria into the urethra.
Men with prostate problems may have difficulties with urine flow and bladder emptying and so allow the bacteria more time to reproduce. Older people, or people with another chronic medical condition such as diabetes, where the immune system is already under stress, are also be more likely to get UTIs.
The Pharmaceutical Society (PSA) has produced a Urinary Tract Infection card which has some self-help hints on how to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections. And it starts with drinking enough water. There’s no specific amount to drink each day – it will vary from person to person; but a good guide is sufficient to satisfy your thirst.
Most importantly, if you think you have a UTI and the simple non-prescription products are not successful, see your doctor promptly. An appropriate antibiotic will usually give the desired results quickly and safely. And you’ll avoid any possible serious consequences.
Meanwhile, if you would like more information about UTIs, check out the Kidney Health website at www.kidney.org.au, or call into Usher Pharmacy, your local Self Care Pharmacy for a UTI fact card.
Article by John Bell