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Urinary tract infections are a fairly common problem that needs to be treated promptly. If you can’t get to a doctor easily, they can become a real problem. You need to know when you need to get treatment and when a UTI can be treated through telemedicine.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection is an infection which happens when bacteria enter your urethra. These infections typically infect the bladder (when they are called cystitis), but can sometimes affect the kidneys (when they are called pyelonephritis). Kidney infections are more serious but, thankfully, less common.
UTIs are more common in women, pre-operative trans men and AFAB non-binary people. This is because your urethra is shorter and closer to the rectum, making it easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract.
The primary symptom of a UTI is pain or a burning sensation when urinating. However, UTis can also cause other symptoms, including:
- More frequent urination than normal
- Experiencing the urge to urinate when the bladder is empty
- Blood in the urine
- Pressure or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen.
If you have a kidney infection, you may experience fever, chills, lower back pain, nausea, or vomiting.
A fever is also common in young children who have an UTI.
When Can a UTI Be Diagnosed Without a Urine Sample?
A urine sample is often taken to diagnose a UTI. This simply means collecting a sample at the doctor’s office or a lab. The sample can be tested for bacteria and also for elevated white blood cells. Note that most healthy people also have some bacteria in their urine, so a urine sample is only indicated if you have symptoms.
However, it is not necessary to take a sample to diagnose a UTI. If you are otherwise healthy and have obvious symptoms of a UTI, a doctor may diagnose you without taking a urine sample. If you are experiencing repeated UTIs or they are not responding to treatment, then a urine test becomes more important. Additionally, the American Urological Association recommends that men, AMAB non-binary, and pre-op trans women…i.e., anyone who has a penis…seek medical care including a urine culture. Basically, it’s a lot harder to get a UTI if you have a penis and these infections are more likely to be complicated.
Another option is a home testing kit that can be acquired at a pharmacist to test samples yourself. This allows for online UTI diagnosis, which is helpful if you are unable to get to a doctor or for trans men who may have issues obtaining care for genital and urinary conditions.
Causes of UTIs
UTIs are often caused by normal bacteria present in your gut or on your skin, or on somebody else. Things that can elevate your risk of a UTI include:
- Sexual activity. Bacteria from your partner’s skin, rectum, or mouth can enter the urinary tract during both vaginal and oral sex. Urinating immediately after sexual activity can reduce your risk of getting a UTI.
- Changes in vaginal flora, which can be caused by menopause or by the use of spermicidal douches. Women who are prone to UTIs should avoid using spermicides.
- Age. UTis are more common in both older adults and young children.
- Enlarged prostate in older AMAB indviduals.
- Poor hygiene.
That said, anyone can get a UTI at any time, and it is not typically anything you did or did not do that caused it.
How to Treat a Urinary Tract Infection Online
If you are AFAB and are not experiencing recurrent UTIs, you can get UTI treatment online through telehealth. In these cases, a urine sample is not needed to diagnose a UTI. The telemedicine doctor will ask a variety of questions to ensure that you are experiencing a UTI not something with similar symptoms, then prescribe antibiotics. You may also be able to get treatment if there is a lab convenient where you can give a urine sample or by using a home urinalysis kit.
Scheduling an Online Visit
You can schedule an online visit with Care on Location. Simply go to the website and click on Get Care, then follow the instructions. Care On Location takes Colorado Medicaid and many insurance plans, and can often give you a same day or next day appointment.
Filling a Prescription Online
If you are prescribed antibiotics, you can fill that prescription at a local pharmacy. If there are no good pharmacies in your area, then you can also fill your prescription online and have it delivered in the mail. However, given the importance of getting treatment quickly to get relief, you should go to a pharmacist if you can. Care on Location can send your prescription to any pharmacist in Colorado.
Will UTIs Go Away On Their Own?
About 30 to 40% of simple UTIs in AFAB individuals will, in fact, go away on their own. However, letting your UTI run its course is unpleasant and potentially risky. An uncomplicated UTI will typically clear up in seven to 10 days, but can take as long as six weeks. A complicated UTI, which includes most UTIs in AMAB individuals, can last weeks or even months and has a high risk of spreading to the kidneys.
If you have the symptoms of a UTI you really should talk to a doctor about treatment. Online treament for a UTI can be an alternative to trekking to a doctor’s office for many people.
What To Expect With Treatment
Treatment for a UTI consists of a short course of antibiotics. For AFAB patients, it is typically a three day case. AMAB patients generally require a longer course, seven to ten days.
You must finish the course of antibiotics as prescribed even if you are feeling better. Antibiotics typically take care of a UTI quickly, but not finishing the course increases your risk of a recurrent infection.
Timeline and Progression
With treatment, most UTIs clear up within a few days. If your symptoms do not resolve, or if they get worse, then you need to contact the doctor again. You may need a different antibiotic type or further treatment.
When to Schedule a Follow-Up Appointment
Follow-up appointments are not necessary if your symptoms clear up. If they do not, then you should schedule another appointment. It is likely this will require a urine sample to identify the bacteria causing your symptoms.
Does Insurance Cover Online Appointments?
Colorado Medicaid covers online appointments with approved providers. If you have private insurance, then you should check with your insurer to make sure that they cover telemedicine and that they cover your chosen provider. If you have a HSA or FSA then you can use your account with online providers.
UTI Home Remedies
Antibiotics are the go-to treatment for UTis, but they don’t always work. Natural remedies can also help both shorten the course of treatment and relieve symptoms.
Some things you might consider:
- Vaccinium macrocarpon Aiton. Otherwise known as cranberry. Many people swear by cranberry juice to prevent infections, but you need to make sure that cranberry products are high quality so that the active ingredients such as quinic acid, which acidifies the urine and makes it hostile to bacteria, are present. Cranberry has not been demonstrated to work well with complicated UTIs, but does reduce recurrent infections and prevents acute cystitis in high-risk females.
- Cinnamon. Cinnamon has shown potential preventing recurring infections in people with catheters.
- Bearberry, which is related to cranberry, reduces recurrence of UTIs.
- Probiotics. These help maintain normal ecology of the vagina. Supplementing with Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-I and Lactobacillus fermentum RC-14 helps prevent UTIs, especially if you are post-menopausal.
- Hydration. Drink plenty of water if you have a UTI. In fact, you should drink “too much” water to encourage frequent urination and flush the bacteria from your system.
- Avoid bladder-irritating foods when you have a UTI. These include acidic foods, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, alcohol, and citrus. Avoid anything you have found makes you want to urinate more frequently or desire to urinate with an empty bladder.
- Wear loose clothing to prevent moisture from accumulating in your groin.
- Use a heating pad or warm washcloth on your pelvic area to relieve symptoms.
All of these can help relieve symptoms, clear a UTI faster, and potentially keep you from getting one in the first place.
How to Prevent a UTI
Again, many people get a UTI despite their best efforts. However, here are some good ways to prevent one from developing:
- Cranberry juice, cinnamon, and bearberry can also reduce the risk of getting a UTI in at risk people.
- Probiotics can also prevent a UTI, especially if you are prone to them.
- Avoid holding it for extended periods of time as much as possible. Holding it for hours increases your risk of a UTi developing. Again, you should also pee after vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
- Garlic. Garlic extract can also potentially reduce your risk of a UTI.
- Increase vitamin C.
- Always wipe from front to back so you are not transporting bacteria from your rectum to your urethra.
Similar Conditions to Urinary Tract Infections
A number of other conditions can be mistaken for a UTI. They include:
- Sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea or syphilis
- Interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome. This is caused by inflammation in the bladder resulting in chronic pain that can become severe. Some patients also have bacteria in their urine. As the symptoms are so similar, this is often diagnosed when treating the UTI does not work.
- Overactive bladder. This is caused by your bladder squeezing out urine at unwanted times. Patients with overactive bladder do not experience pain or burning when urinating.
- Vaginal candidiasis, otherwise known as a yeast infection. This causes pain or discomfort when urinating, but also typically pain during vaginal sex, and itching or soreness of the vagina.
- Genital injuries. Broken skin or bruising around the urethra can also cause pain or burning when urinating. This symptom can happen even if there is no bleeding or other sign of injury. These kinds of injuries are often caused when cycling or horseback riding, when shaving the pubertal area (female), or from zipper incidents (male). If you have a known genital injury then it is likely you will have pain when urinating.
Complications from an Untreated UTI
While many UTIs go away on their own in AFAB individuals, complications can happen, particularly in AMAB individuals. Complications can include the infection spreading to the kidneys, which can cause permanent kidney damage. Rarely, this can lead to life-threatening sepsis.
If you are pregnant then an untreated UTI can increase your risk of premature delivery or low birth weight, as well as for gestational high blood pressure and anemia.
If UTIs don’t respond to treatment, a doctor may do imaging to uncover problems. Functional issues that can cause a UTI include enlarged prostates, catheters, urinary stones, cysts, and even tumors. In some cases these issues may require surgery.
How to Check Yourself for a UTI
Home urinalysis kits can help confirm a UTI, but in most cases UTIs are diagnosed symptomatically. If you have had a UTI before then you will likely recognize the symptoms if you have one again. In fact, some people who are prone to UTIs may have their doctor recommend that the get a prescription for antibiotics and keep them on hand, taking them when symptoms start without the need of a doctor’s visit.
UTIs are a very common infection, especially for women, preoperative trans men and others assigned female at birth. Online UTI treatment can save you the need to visit a doctor and help you recover faster.