How to handle a UTI during pregnancy

February 10, 2014 3:43 PM by

Pregnancy has its highs and lows, and while you may love certain aspects of being pregnant, others aren't as fun. Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are one example of a common pregnancy ailment that women may have to deal with. You may have experienced a UTI before, which probably came with a frequent urge to pee and a burning sensation when you do. But are there differences in treatment and symptoms when you have a UTI during pregnancy? Here's what you need to know.

How it happens
UTIs usually occur when bacteria (most commonly E. coli) from your skin, vagina or rectum enter your urethra and travel upward toward your bladder and kidneys. UTIs are more common during pregnancy because the urinary tract is undergoing changes. The uterus sits right on top of the bladder, and as it grows, its increased weight can block the drainage of urine from the bladder, which can cause an infection. About 10 percent of expecting moms experience a UTI at some point during their pregnancy, usually starting between week six and week 24 of the pregnancy cycle. 

The bacteria can stop at the bladder or go farther to reach the kidneys, which results in a kidney infection. If untreated, a kidney infection can spread to your blood and have serious consequences. It can also have an effect on your unborn child, causing preterm birth and low birth weight. It's also possible that the bacteria doesn't spread and doesn't cause symptoms, which is known as asymptomatic bacteriuria. If it's not treated, it can also cause serious problems, which is why your urine is often tested during pregnancy.

What it feels like
The most common symptom of a UTI is the frequent urge to pee. You might feel like you have to go even when you don't have a lot of urine in your bladder, and when you do pee, it often burns. You might also feel pain when you have sex, cramps or pain in your lower abdomen, and pain, pressure or tenderness in the area around your bladder. Your pee might look cloudy or smell unusually strong. If the infection spreads to your kidneys, you could experience lower back pain, chills, fever, nausea and vomiting.

How it's treated
If you notice any of the above symptoms, reach out to your health care provider right away. You'll need to head to his or her office and give a urine sample for testing. If a UTI is confirmed, your doctor will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics that lasts for three to seven days and is safe for both you and your baby. If you don't notice any changes after taking the medicine for three days, let your doctor know and he or she may adjust your dosage or give you further instructions.

How to prevent it
There are some things you can do to reduce your chances of getting a UTI during pregnancy. First, be sure to keep your genital area clean and wipe from front to back when you go to the bathroom. Change your underwear every day (cotton underwear is best) and avoid wearing super-tight pants. Try to pee as soon as you feel the urge instead of holding it in, and always go to the bathroom before and after having sex. It also helps to be properly hydrated by drinking six to eight glasses of water a day, and cranberry juice is good too. Vitamin C, beta carotene and zinc supplements can also help fight infection in your body.

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