UTI: A Common But Serious Problem

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Most African-American adults have experienced the pain and discomfort of a urinary tract infection (UTI) at one time or another, but may not have known what it was. The symptoms of UTI can be ignored or mistaken for other conditions. Pain or pressure in the lower abdomen, pain or stinging during urination and an urgent need to urinate frequently, even when the flow is just a trickle, can mean an infection in the urinary tract is present. Left untreated, UTI can spread to the bladder or kidneys and cause kidney disease.

Bacteria that enter the urinary tract through the urethra and multiply in the bladder cause most UTI's. Blacks with Diabetes and Black men with an enlarged prostate are particularly susceptible, along with most women whose urethras are shorter than men's.

The most used treatment for UTI is antibiotic therapy, but antibiotics kill good bacteria along with the bad and leave infected persons with reduced defenses to fight future infections. Instead, many health professionals are now opting to treat this common problem with a variety of herbal tinctures that include marshmallow and cornsilk, among others. The goal is to strengthen the urinary tract system as well as quell the infection. While the herbs mentioned are readily available in most health food stores, dosing is important. A trained herbalist or physician should oversee herbal therapies for any condition.

High doses of vitamin C have also proven effective in treating UTI. Three to five grams of the vitamin daily acidifies urine and retards bacterial growth. Alternating streams of hot and cold water directed toward the pelvic region several times a day is also a useful therapy to increase blood flow to the infected area and reduce inflammation.

Your chances of contracting a urinary tract infection are greatly reduced by remaining fully hydrated with lots of fresh drinking water. It's estimated that a half-ounce of water is needed for each pound of body weight, so a 180-pound African American woman would need 90 ounces of water daily to guard against this type of infection, and more if they're physically active.

A balanced diet that avoids wheat, dairy and citrus fruits (known for promoting low grade inflammatory reactions) is also beneficial. Avoid coffee and caffeinated drinks. Good hygiene, especially for women, is essential. Women should always cleanse themselves from front to back after using the bathroom. Doing so decreases the amount of bacteria introduced into the urethra. Douches, bubble baths, vaginal creams, spermicides - even harsh or perfumed laundry detergents and synthetic underwear- can trigger or aggravate an infection by upsetting the body's natural protection from good bacteria.

Cranberries are have proven highly effective in battling UTI, but beware! Heavily sugared cranberry juice or sauce may have the opposite effect since sugar feeds bacteria rather than killing it. Instead, dilute unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate or search your local health food store for cranberry extract capsules. They may be sold under the Latin name Vaccinium macrocarpon.

Remember, urinary tract infections in African Americans can be serious. If you suspect you have one, please see your doctor immediately. The self-help treatments listed above are preventive measures against future infections, not cures for the one you have.

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