Why Do Men Get Urinary Tract Infections?


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If you are experiencing pain or discomfort when urinating, you may have a urinary tract infection (UTI), a condition that develops when bacteria, usually Escherichia coli, attack the urinary tract. Although the majority of the more than 8 million cases of UTIs that occur each year in the United States affect women, urinary tract infections in men are a concern as well.

Urinary tract infections in men under 50 are pretty uncommon. After that half century mark, however, from 20 to 50 percent of men will experience a UTI, usually associated with benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), prostatitis, and a general weakening of the urinary tract muscles.

Why urinary tract infections in men occur

In men who have BPH, for example, the enlarged prostate can block the flow of urine from the bladder, which prevents it from emptying completely. This increases the chance that bacteria will grow and develop into an infection. Prostatitis, which is an inflammation of the prostate, is also a form of urinary infection. Other medical conditions that can increase the risk of developing a urinary tract infection include diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, kidney stones, and neurological diseases that prevent complete emptying of the bladder, which can result in infection.

Lower urinary tract infections, which can involve the ureters, bladder, and urethra, are more common than upper tract infections. These latter infections are more serious and involve the kidneys, resulting in a condition known as pyelonephritis.

Symptoms of a urinary tract infection can include:

– an unusually frequent need to urinate

– an intense urge to urinate

– pain or burning sensation during urination

– cloudy or foul smelling urine

– nausea and vomiting

– pain or pressure in the area of the bladder

– fever with or without chills

– pain in the side or upper back

The latter four symptoms are associated with an upper urinary tract infection.

Treating urinary tract infections in men

If some of these symptoms sound like those associated with prostate problems, you’re right. That’s one reason why it is important to seek medical advice from a physician for diagnosis and treatment. Antibiotics are the standard treatment for these infections, including amoxicillin, nitrofurantoin, ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, and sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim. Symptoms usually disappear within a few days of starting treatment, but you should complete the entire course of antibiotics that your physician prescribes to make sure the infection is completely eradicated.

Along with antibiotics, there are other things you can do to not only enhance that treatment but also help prevent recurrence of infection. One of those options is cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon or V. oxycoccus) juice or supplements.

Studies show that drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements can help prevent the recurrence of simple urinary tract infections. Cranberry contains substances called proanthocyanins that prevent bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract, so the microorganisms do not have a chance to cause infection.

Although no study has examined the impact of cranberry juice or supplements specifically on men who have urinary tract infections, studies in women have shown the fruit to be effective. Women who drank 300 milliliters (that’s about 10 ounces) of cranberry juice daily reduced their risk of getting a urinary tract infection by nearly 50 percent.

In another study, researchers compared pure cranberry juice, cranberry extract tablets, and placebo in 150 women at high risk for UTIs. Both the juice and the supplements significantly reduced urinary tract infections. If you buy cranberry juice, choose 100 percent, unsweetened juice.

Another natural alternative is the herb uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). This herb contains the active substance arbutin, which appears to have antiseptic properties. Supplements of this herb may be helpful if taken at the first sign of an infection.

Probiotics, commonly referred to as beneficial bacteria, can be helpful both as a preventive measure and as part of a treatment plan. Studies show that probiotics help protect the urogenital tract from colonization by E. coli. Probiotics can be found in yogurt, kefir, and other fermented foods, and supplements are also available. Supplements that contain a mixture of two or more species of beneficial bacteria from the Lactobacillus group are usually recommended.

Some lifestyle habits also can help prevent urinary tract infections as well:

  • Drink an average of 2 liters of fluids per day
  • Practice safe sex
  • Urinate when the desire arises; avoid “holding it”
  • Avoid unnecessary or indiscriminate use of antibiotics

If you are experiencing symptoms of a urinary tract infection, do not wait for them to go away on their own. Seek medical help, and consider enhancing your treatment with a natural alternative. A knowledgeable healthcare provider can help you choose the best complementary treatment.