In midlife there are many factors that can increase the likelihood that a woman will suddenly start having more bladder infections.
With the uncomplicated bladder infection or urinary tract infection, the symptoms might include:
- Feeling that you have to get to the bathroom every 5 minutes
- Only having a tiny amount of urine
- Intense burning
- Possible itching and burning in the vagina, and
- Pain in the lower abdomen.
When a woman with symptoms sees their health care provider, they’ll ask for a urine specimen. Most of the time, we use a special dipstick to test the urine. This is a long plastic stick with little indicators on it that turn colors if blood or white blood cells are present in the urine.
When white blood cells are present, it means that the body’s defense system has reacted to an infection. (Kind of like the Navy reacting to a threat.) This is a quick and easy test that can be done right in the office. If the dipstick shows any sign of infection, the provider may order a urine culture, but it’s not necessary unless a woman:
- Has had 3 or more bladder infections in a year
- Is pregnant
- Has other medical conditions that affects overall health
- Has incontinence or leaking of urine
- Also has blood in the urine
Many times women will be feeling better and on their way after 3 days of antibiotics. Other times, for women with complicated or recurrent infections, 7 to 10 days is necessary.
Women Over 45
As women age, many changes occur, including lowered estrogen levels. One area that is particularly impacted is the genitalia. There are more estrogen receptors in that area than any other. Known as vaginal atrophy, decreased estrogen causes that tender skin around the private girl parts to become much dryer and less able to fight off infections.
The vaginal pH that used to be slightly acidic, now becomes more alkaline, which drives off the normal healthy, beneficial bacteria, Lactobacilli which also in turn work to keep the pH low.
A low pH keeps the more harmful bacteria away and prevents vaginal infections, and they also prevent the overgrowth of bacteria that can migrate to the bladder, causing an infection. Besides antibiotics that are prescribed for the infection, it’s critically important to offer treatment with a vaginal estrogen preparation to prevent repeated infections in the future.
Many women are surprised to receive estrogen and antibiotics with a bladder infection in menopause. The antibiotics are for the short term and the estrogen is a longer term preventive solution. Options include creams (Estrace and Premarin), pellets (Vagifem) and a vaginal ring (Estring).
So if you’ve got symptoms, get the results of the dipstick and then talk about what’s next.
For more tips, please check out my new book, The Hot Guide to a Cool Sexy Menopause. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, for E-readers, wherever books are sold and through Basic Health Publishing.