Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

6 min read

Urinary tract infection is the second most common infection in women. Half of the women contract at least one urinary tract infection during their lifetime. This is because physically, it is easy for the bacteria to enter the urinary tract of a woman than a man. The urethra of women is shorter than that of men, making it easy for the bacteria to enter the tract. Secondly, the urethra lies close to the rectum and vagina where the chances of presence of bacteria are high. Around 10 percent of women get a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point during their pregnancies. If a urinary tract infection is diagnosed during the initial stage, it can be cured completely. If the symptoms of urinary tract infection are not diagnosed in its initial stages, the condition can get serious. Preterm labor, premature baby, a baby with low birth weight, and sepsis are some of the several possible complications that can occur due to urinary tract infection during pregnancy. Sometimes urinary tract infection can be asymptomatic. This article will help to recognize the symptoms of a urinary tract infection, its causes, its treatment options, and how to minimize the risk of contracting urinary tract infection during pregnancy.
urinary tract infection

What Is Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when the urinary tract system, which includes the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys, becomes infected. An infection occurs when bacteria gets into this system from other parts of the body like the skin, vagina, and rectum. When the bacteria gets multiplied faster than the urine is flushed out, it causes infections.
Usually, the infection affects the urinary bladder where the urine is stored before flushing out of the body. It is called lower urinary tract infection or cystitis.
If the infection happens in the urethra, it is called urethra infection.
When the bacteria reach the kidney through ureters, it can infect one or both kidneys. It is called an upper urinary tract infection or pyelonephritis. This is a serious condition because if the infection spreads to the bloodstream, it can be life-threatening for the expecting mother.

Causes Of Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy

As we have already mentioned, the infection occurs when the bacteria makes its way into the urinary tract. This happens through

  • Sex: During the foreplay and intercourse, the chances of bacteria from the colon and vagina getting into the urethra increases
  • Infrequent urination: Due to the physical and physiological changes, infrequent urination is more common during pregnancy. This makes the urine remain in the bladder for a long time, increasing the chances of bacteria to thrive
  • Urinary tract abnormalities: Abnormalities in the urinary tract can hinder the flow of the urine from the kidney to the urinary bladder. Likewise, abnormalities can prevent the emptying of the bladder completely. The bacteria can thrive in the urine that is retained in the bladder
  • Diabetes: High blood glucose level increases the risk of contracting urinary tract infection. Therefore, untreated gestational diabetes, will trigger urinary tract infection during pregnancy
  • Poor personal hygiene and practices: If the private parts are not properly washed and cleaned, it can be a place where the bacteria dwell. Also, after a bowel movement, wiping from back to front will permit the bacteria in the stool to get near the urethra
Why Does Pregnancy Make Me More Likely To Get A Urinary Tract Infection?

It is not the pregnancy that increases the risk of urinary tract infection. It is the physical and hormonal changes that take place during the pregnancy that leads to urinary tract infection. Some of the reasons that make women susceptible to urinary tract infection during pregnancy are:

  • Hormones: The increased levels of the pregnancy hormone progesterone relaxes the muscles of ureters that connect the kidneys to the bladder. The decrease in the muscle tone of the ureters slows down the flow of urine from the kidneys to the bladder. This gives bacteria an easier opportunity to multiply and travel up the urinary tract and cause a kidney infection. The bladder can also lose the tone; thereby, the emptying of the bladder can be difficult. This also can result in an infection
  • Growing uterus: The uterus is situated precisely on top of the bladder. The increasing size of the uterus during pregnancy puts pressure on the bladder, making it more difficult to empty the bladder during urination. Thus some amount of urine is retained in the bladder where bacteria can thrive
  • Diabetes: High blood glucose level increases the risk of contracting urinary tract infection. Therefore, untreated, gestational diabetes can trigger urinary tract infection during pregnancy
What Are The Symptoms Of Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy?

Urinary tract infection can come with symptoms or without symptoms (asymptomatic). As we already mentioned, the asymptomatic urinary tract infection possesses danger in the normal progression of pregnancy and the health of the mother. That is why the urine test is a part of antenatal care. Never try to skip this test. If the presence of bacteria is detected during any of these tests, antibiotics will be given to clear the infection as early as possible.
The symptoms vary depending on the area of the tract that is infected.

The lower urinary tract infection symptoms include
  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • Pain and cramps in the lower part of the abdomen
  • A quick and sudden urge to pee
  • Pain in pubic bone part
  • Urine smells foul
  • The urine appears cloudy
  • Low-grade fever
  • Pain and sensitivity in the bladder area
  • Dark and bloody urine
The upper urinary tract infection symptoms include
  • Pain that radiates from the upper abdomen to the back or sharp and constant pain in the back (indicates kidney infection)
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • High temperature

UTI in pregnancy

How Is Urinary Tract Infection Treated During Pregnancy?

Lower urinary tract infections can be treated with antibiotics that are safe during pregnancy. Doctors usually prescribe a 3 to 7-day course of antibiotics that are considered safe for both the mother and her child. Sometimes depending on the severity, a 14-day course of antibiotic is also prescribed. Another urine test is performed once the treatment has finished making sure the bladder infection is fully gone.
What you must keep in mind is, even though most of the symptoms vanish within the first three days of the medication, you should complete the course as recommended by the doctor.
Upper urinary tract infections can cause more complications. Hence, hospitalization will be necessary. Intravenous fluid and antibiotics will be started immediately. Careful and continuous monitoring of mother and baby will be done. The heartbeat of the unborn baby and blood pressure, heart rate, pulse, breathing, frequency, and quantity of urination of the mother will be continuously monitored. If the infection is mild and there are no signs of preterm labor, the mother will be discharged within 12 to 24 hours, and the rest of the medication will be oral antibiotics that can be taken at home. On the other hand, if the upper urinary tract infection is severe, the mother to be will be hospitalized until all the readings come back to normal.

How Can Urinary Tract Infection Be Prevented During The Pregnancy?

It is difficult to prevent urinary tract infections during pregnancy completely. There are no preventing methods that are 100% effective. However, there are several precautionary steps that can be taken to help reduce the chances of getting a urinary tract infection in the course of pregnancy. These include:

  • Stay well-hydrated. Drink plenty of water
  • Cranberry juice is found to keep infections at bay. So, if possible drink a glass of cranberry juice daily
  • Likewise, include food rich in vitamin C in the pregnancy diet
  • Don’t wear tight pants or underwear. Use loose cotton underwear and change it twice a day
  • Don’t forcefully stop the urge to urinate
  • Try to empty the bladder completely whenever urinating
  • Keep the genital area clean, especially after having sex and after urinating. Wash with warm water and pat dry (never rub)
  • Don’t use strong deodorant, soap or powder or any feminine products in that area as it can invite irritation and thereby infection
  • After bowel movements, rub from the front towards the back, thereby preventing the microbes from getting into the genital area

Did you suffer from urinary tract infection during pregnancy? What did you do to prevent it? Do share your experience in the comments section below.

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