Rushing to the washroom to pee only to discover that you can squeeze out a mere dribble is more than annoying. It can also signal a urinary tract infection (UTI). When it comes to a takeover by micro-organisms, only our airways are more vulnerable than our urethras and bladders. Symptoms of an infection may include frequent and/or urgent urination, burning with urination, abdominal pain and cloudy or bloody urine.
Don't ignore the symptoms; they're sometimes a sign of other illness. And if you've got an infection, you have to make sure the bacteria involved don't spread to your kidneys. If that happens, you'll experience intense back pain, high fever, chills, nausea and diarrhea - and you'll need the ER.
Usually, the germs involved come from your digestive tract. If you're a girl, wipe front to back after you pee or shit. If you're a guy, you raise your generally low risk of infection if you don't put on a condom before anal sex.
If you know you're prone to UTIs, your first line of defence is to eat well for strong immunity. Drink enough to keep you taking a leak every two to three hours. A daily litre of unsugared cranberry juice (you could sweeten it with stevia) or half a cup of blueberries will help keep bacteria from sticking to your bladder. Some believe probiotic supplements, naturally fermented veggies like sauerkraut and pickles and natural yogurt lower the numbers of potentially UTI-causing germs in your gut.
Avoid tight clothes; boycott bubble baths and pads and tampons "enhanced" with chemical scents. Empty your bladder after intercourse, since the pressure involved can push bacteria up a gal's urinary tract. And on that note, sisters, to avoid stress on your urethra, don't let anyone in unless you're highly aroused and lubed.
Note that diaphragms and spermicidal foam up your risk of a UTI. If, despite all, you get sick, you need antibiotics to protect those precious kidneys unless you're under the close supervision of a holistic practitioner. Otherwise, take the full course and then see a naturopath, homeopath or herbalist for customized advice on preventing a repeat.
Note that herbal UTI treatments are complicated. They can shut down your kidneys if you have any other kidney issues. Also, the pH of your urine affects how different herbs work. One of the most frequently used herbs, uva ursi, is potentially toxic. In other words, if you want to treat with herbs, get pro supervision.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"For preventing UTIs, use cranberry juice in its pure form. Don't walk around in bare feet, especially on cold floors - that seems to stress the bladder and kidneys. Soups and baked and steamed root vegetables with colour, like yams, turnips and squashes, soothe and moisturize the kidneys. For a UTI without complications, we mix antiseptic herbs, mechanical diuretics and moisturizing herbs. For resistant infections we bring in goldenseal , usnea , echinacea and d-mannose , a natural plant sugar that affects the way bacteria adhere to the kidneys in resistant E. coli infections."
ROGER LEWIS , chartered herbalist, Toronto
"Remedies to have on hand for acute cases, until you can see a practitioner, include Pulsatilla 30c if symptoms include frequent and urgent need to pass urine, worse when lying down. Staphysagria 30c addresses symptoms that follow sexual activity or catheterization. Another remedy is Arsenicum album , for cystitis with severe burning pains that are relieved by warmth. Apis 30c treats cystitis with stinging pains that get worse from warmth. Take the remedy every half-hour if symptoms are severe. The first three to four doses should give relief. People who feel victimized and have boundary problems are more susceptible to UTIs."
TAMARA DER-OHANIAN , homeopath, Toronto
"(To prevent infections) avoid dehydration and simple sugars that feed bacteria. Take bioflavonoids, beta-carotene, vitamin A, zinc and buffered vitamin C to support the immune system. Put 10 drops of tea tree oil in a half-cup of water and rinse the perineal area after showers, urination and intercourse. Barley water , an old remedy for increasing urine flow, is mildly antimicrobial and very soothing. It can sometimes clear up a mild infection. Put 1 cup barley in a litre of water, bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, cool and strain. Add lemon juice to taste, and drink up to six cups a day."
KATE WHARTON , naturopath, Toronto
"The first question I ask someone who comes in with a chronic UTI condition is, 'Who or what are you pissed off at?' When people have feelings of violation or anger, it releases cortisol, which reduces immune system functioning. Feelings of mistreatment within a relationship, even on a minor level, will cause anger that women are often afraid to express. The body is wise, and the energy is released in an area where you could become aware that it's related to your relationship - it's your sexual area.'
SUSAN STEVENSON , reiki practitioner and counsellor, Toronto
"Fill and empty your bladder frequently to wash away any bacteria that make it there. Those who have difficulty emptying their bladder effectively are more prone to infection. (As a preventive measure, try double voiding , voiding again shortly after voiding.) If someone is having recurrent infections, we might prescribe prophylactic antibiotics. We typically don't use probiotics, because the antibiotics we use are given in such a low dose that they don't alter the gut flora."
LISA CARTWRIGHT , MD, urologist, Toronto Hospital for Sick Children