Nancy Prothero
Nancy Prothero

More than 8 million people visit the doctor each year for a urinary tract infection (UTI) – the second most common type of infection in the body, according to the American Urological Association. UTIs, also known as bladder infections, occur when bacteria enters the urinary tract.

While both men and women are prone to UTIs, they are more common in women because their urethras are shorter and closer to the rectum, according to Nancy Prothero, one of five midwives at Novant Health Midwifery in Winston-Salem. Prothero said E. coli bacteria, which live in the bowel, cause most of them.

Preventing a UTI

The “at-home remedies” you’ve likely heard of – drinking cranberry juice or taking probiotics – only prevent future urinary tract infections. Prothero said these options, while helpful in prevention, will not cure one.

She said upping vitamin C consumption, which makes the urine more acidic, can also help prevent UTIs, as do probiotics like acidophilus, which boost the immune system. One reminder from Prothero: If you go with cranberry juice, don’t get the sugary cocktail option at the grocery store. You’ll want pure, tart 100% cranberry juice (preferably unsweetened). Cranberry pills are another option.

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Other ways to prevent future infections include:

  • Staying hydrated.
  • Urinating after sexual intercourse.
  • Keeping your immune system healthy.
  • Limiting caffeine consumption.
  • Good overall hygiene, such as wiping front to back.

Treating a UTI

Men and women will experience similar symptoms of infection, including:

  • Pain or burning while urinating.
  • An increased urgency to urinate – even if the bladder is empty.
  • Blood in urine.
  • Dark-colored urine
  • An odor to urine.

Prothero said about 20% of mild, uncomplicated infections will go away on their own with lots of water, which helps flush the bacteria out of the bladder. However, individuals with symptoms of UTI that are concerning enough to seek care need antibiotics, especially if they have a fever.

“Let's say it's the weekend and you want to wait until Monday to see a doctor,” Prothero said. “As long as you do not have back pain, fever or chills, you can start an over-the-counter medication like Azo or Pyridium to help with the burning sensation and urgency, but this will not treat the bacteria. Keep in mind, this urinary analgesic should only be used for two days.”

The prescribed antibiotics, which are inexpensive, are taken over a three-to-five-day period depending on the medication. Prothero said leaving it untreated could result in a kidney infection. This can lead to serious health problems, but quick treatment prevents most complications.

Signs that you may have a kidney infection include:

  • Back pain.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Flu-like symptoms such as a fever and chills.

For people who get UTIs often, Prothero recommended seeing a urologist to better understand why. She added that UTIs are more dangerous to pregnant women since the infection can cause preterm labor, so they should see their physician immediately if experiencing symptoms.

‘We take care of women’

Prothero, a nurse midwife of more than 20 years, said a common misconception about midwives is that they only work with women who do not want to deliver in the hospital.

“People think we do at-home births and that’s it. I’ve heard that my whole career,” Prothero said. “In fact, I’ve never done a home birth. I’ve always done hospital births.”

Prothero said nurse midwives are also certified as nurse practitioners. They care for women throughout their life span – not just women who are pregnant. They can do some primary care, prescribe medication and contraceptives, perform pelvic exams, provide prenatal care such as preconception counseling, deliver babies and even work with postmenopausal women. Midwifery is about giving women options.

“Some people think, just from an obstetrics standpoint, if you go with a midwife that you have to go all natural. That’s not true, either. It’s your choice. Some women get epidurals, some people don’t, but we help find what is best for you and your family,” Prothero said.

Novant Health also provides midwifery services in both the Charlotte and Wilmington area.