Chronic UTIs — The Secret Your Doctor Might Not Know to Tell You
By Dr. Will Cole
For many women, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are frequent, painful occurrences that can really hinder living your best life. In fact, UTIs are responsible for 8 million doctor visits every year with up to 60 percent of women experiencing at least one UTI in their lifetime. They are also the second most common type of infection that happens in the human body, and while they most often affect women, men can experience them as well.
As a functional medicine expert, it is my job to get to the root cause of your health problems-personalized knowledge truly is power! . If we can understand why chronic UTIs occur in the first place and how they are traditionally treated, we start to truly heal from the inside out.
What exactly is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection happens when there is an infection caused by a virus, fungus, or bacteria. This infection can also occur outside of the urinary tract and in the ureters, urethra, bladder, or kidneys, making UTI more of a broad term for an infection in any one of these areas, not just the urinary tract. Symptoms of a UTI include:
- Frequent urination
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating
- Back pain
- Dark, cloudy, or red urine
- Constant urge to urinate but inability to pass a regular amount of urine
There is a standardized way of treating UTI’s however this still leaves many individuals confused and still struggling with chronic UTIs.
Antibiotics are not always the answer
The most common treatment for UTIs are antibiotics which, in some cases, can be necessary and extremely helpful at clearing up an infection. However, if you suffer from frequent UTIs many doctors prescribe long-term, low-dose antibiotics to fend what’s causing the UTI. But for a lot of women this doesn’t always work because antibiotics only kill bacteria. Therefore, if the infection is due to a virus or fungus, antibiotics may not be the solution.
Antibiotics may also wreak havoc on your gut health. This is because antibiotics don’t discriminate against what bacteria they are killing, so they end up killing off the bad and good bacteria that your body needs to have a strong immune system to keep fighting off these infections.
Additionally, overusing antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. This is when the bacteria causing the infection no longer responds to the antibiotic being prescribed. And when antibiotics don’t kill off the bacteria, they continue to multiply.
What you might consider to treat your UTI
Again, it’s not to say that antibiotics can never help; at times they are not just the right answer but the only one. . However in functional medicine, we always want to consider what will help us achieve sustained health. But in the case of chronic UTIs, here are some tools you can utilize
If you do have to take an antibiotic, a probiotic is essential for reintroducing good bacteria back into your gut. They also help keep your immune system strong, so taking a probiotic on a regular basis will give your gut and immune system a solid foundation to fight off any incoming unwanted strangers.
You may have already tried the age old remedy of drinking cranberry juice to overcome a UTI. But instead of cranberry juice, try supplementing with D-mannose which is the sugar found in cranberries that is responsible for binding to and eliminating the bacteria causing the infection. You can find supplements at your local vitamin shop for a higher, more bioavailable dose of D-mannose than juice contains.
When you are in the middle of work or another important activity, it’s tempting to hold it as long as possible before making your way to the bathroom. However, holding in your urine can cause bacteria to build up in your urinary tract leading to an infection. So next time you feel the urge, make a pit stop as soon as possible.
It may seem counterintuitive but drinking more water will cause you to urinate more which will help you to flush out more of the infection-causing bacteria.
In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I see a lot of patients who have struggled with chronic UTIs for years before being diagnosed with interstitial cystitis. Also known as painful bladder syndrome, it’s symptoms look similar and can mimic those of UTIs.
Because this condition is due to chronic inflammation in the bladder area instead of an infection, IC is actually considered an autoimmune disease. This is the reason why the standard UTI treatments like antibiotics don’t ever work at alleviating the symptoms because they aren’t targeting the correct root cause. If you think this might be an issue for you, talk to your doctor about running labs to look into this more definitively.
By addressing the underlying cause and looking at alternative treatments, UTIs don’t have to be a part of your story forever. If you find yourself struggling with chronic UTIs, start implementing some of these tools and seek out options such as a functional medicine practitioner who can work with you on a plan toward more long-term, sustainable healing.