A decidedly non-sexy post: in this blog where I pretty much have vowed to be honest—this post is brutally honest and “graphic.” I’ll discuss a demoralizing (and often embarrassing) medical issue many women face. I’m not going to be fun or sexy or deeply philosophical here. I just find way too little reliable information in the “Google It” format. Consider this my Public Service Announcement, from years of experiences and a layman’s point of view, and decidedly “non-medical.” (Always consult your doctor for a professional diagnosis and treatment).
Many women (and very few men) are prone to an extremely unpleasant condition called Cystitis, or Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).
And, well, it can totally mess with a woman’s sexuality. It can actually make one fearful of sex, for all of the pain and discomfort it can potentially cause.
If you’ve read this far, you probably already know that any infection of the urinary tract involves a bacteria of the digestive system (namely E. Coli), that has invaded that otherwise sterile urinary system. The symptoms usually involve burning, frequency, achiness in the pelvic region, and a sensation that you can’t completely void. All of that irritation may also create a sensation of constant arousal… and ironically, it’s not a pleasant sensation. It’s one of the most miserable pains I know (and we will rule out any other STDs or other infections for purposes of this discussion).
The cause of a UTI is often that fecal matter enters the urethra; but despite many women’s best efforts to clean themselves correctly (front to back), that bacteria can still invade.
It is also called “Honeymoon Cystitis” because the intensity and frequency of sex on a honeymoon (or any time) can often bring this on. Those having frequent sex are advised to immediately urinate after sex to flush out any invaders (and if you are prone to UTIs, you void after all sex).
It’s also a condition common among post-menopausal women. Lack of estrogen may allow bacteria that can cause UTIs to grow more easily in the vagina or urethra and cause an infection in the bladder.
When the infection goes beyond the urethra (the tube that drains the bladder) and into the bladder or kidneys, it is a serious condition.
Here’s what you might not find in your Google Search: There are some women who due to their individual anatomy, are very susceptible to repeated infections, despite best efforts at prevention. So much of a woman’s vulvar anatomy are such close neighbors, it’s little wonder it’s not a constant state. What a complicated area! But like fingerprints, vulvas are very unique.
And there is shockingly little research or answers about all of this.
There are thousands of women who regularly quaff cranberry juice, as legend has it (and science has yet to definitively prove), it makes the bladder and urinary tract inhospitable to bacteria. What you paradoxically find, is that most cranberry juices are full of sugar, possibly other additives. PURE cranberry juice is about the tartest thing I know, barely consumable even when you add stevia or other fake sugars. Cranberry supplements are often made from by-products of cranberries, after they’ve been juiced (the one recently recommended to me—Ellura– runs about $1.50/tablet). But there may be cases when cranberry (or anything acidic) is the exact opposite of what you should do. Others steer clear of sugar and caffeine, which can be irritants. Of course drinking LOTS of pure water is always advisable for keep things flowing well. This is all preventative, and once a bacteria has taken hold, there’s little “natural” you can do to back off from it.
There comes a time when the only way to handle a full-blown infection is with antibiotics. Usually when you see your doctor and give a urine sample, they’ll do a quick dip to check for bacteria and blood (you can actually buy UTI test kits at the pharmacy). If present, they’ll start you on an antibiotic immediately, while they send your sample off for a “culture.” From my limited scientific knowledge, in layman’s terms, that culture will grow bacteria and test its susceptibility or resistance to various antibiotics. If it proves resistant to the antibiotic you were first given, they’ll switch you to the better one.
So now here’s the scary part about antibiotics. You may have heard that there is increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics. This causes many (lazy) doctors to just default to the strongest, most toxic and broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat UTIs from the start, namely Cipro. Cipro is a floxin drug, which has some real horror stories associated with it (look it up… namely affecting tendons; I am sure my Achilles tendinitis problem is related). I personally view Cipro as a poison. It is so broad-spectrum that it destroys all of the good bacteria as well- in your gut, and the good bacteria that keeps your vaginal pH normal. When I HAVE to take Cipro as a last resort, I also ask for Diflucan to battle the yeast infection that is sure to come. And, lately, I feel that the toxicity of Cipro has actually prolonged my irritation and discomfort from UTIs. While the bacteria may be gone, the pain and discomfort remain.
My “antibiotic story:” as a child, I was diagnosed with probable Rheumatic Fever. The therapy at the time was massive daily doses of Penicillin. I took Penicillin for several years, daily. My body’s bacteria have long ago scoffed at penicillin drugs. As a young woman in my 20s, I got frequent UTIs. The docs recommended a “prophylactic” daily dose of Macrodantin. My body’s bacteria eventually learned how to combat this antibiotic (a common one for UTIs). Last year my urine culture came back resistant to 16 antibiotics. Cipro was the only option. But for weeks after, I had pain and discomfort.
With that scary news, I became determined to decrease or stop antibiotics in my life, and build my natural immune system. Problem is, I can usually count on at least one major bronchial or sinus infection a year; and apparently at least one or more UTIs—which require treatment with antibiotics to prevent complications of pneumonia or kidney infection.
Preventative is what I’m left with. Recently I’ve invested more into use of essential oils. I’ve managed to forestall one pending UTI by taking a capsule with Young Livinig essential oils (of lemon, copaiba, Thieves® and juniper); but not having a tried and true protocol, I apparently didn’t take the blend long enough to really discourage the bacteria, and the full-blown UTI came a week later.
There’s another complication to mention. In my early 40s, it seemed I had repeated UTIs, with all the full-blown discomfort symptoms: the constant pressure, frequency, and ache in my pelvis. When cultures returned repeatedly without bacterial, I was on a quest to find out what it was. Eventually my symptoms pointed to a little-known condition called Interstitial Cystitis, sort of an ulceration of the lining of the Urinary tract/bladder. There are no known causes (some will say “stress” which to my mind is an overly simplistic and convenient supposition), and no definitive treatments, just a lot of experimental stuff (drugs from antihistamines to antidepressants were used to treat). Plus, there were (and still are) many traditional doctors/urologists who do not believe this is “real” condition. I had to learn the hard way, and would actually ask each urologist’s office “did the practitioner BELIEVE interstitial cystitis was a real condition, or did he subscribe to the prevalent notion that it was a “hysterical female psychosomatic condition?” My take-away is that I will never see a male urologist again; and whenever possible, seek out a FEMALE gynecological-urologist who has invested into the research of female pelvic disorders. I’m currently on the wait list for an appointment, the earliest available being October.
Lastly, I’m faced with yet another complication. About ten years after a large twin pregnancy that stretched a lot internally, I was experiencing stress incontinence (I was 48). My gynecologist at the time recommended a procedure called a Transobturator Sling, a “minimally invasive” surgical procedure that uses a narrow strip of permanent mesh to correct stress urinary incontinence (SUI) by creating a sort of “hammock” to lift the urethra tube. The procedure was successful and SUI went away for me. Since that time there have been issues (and lawsuits) with this material. I’m a little concerned that this could be contributing to recurrent UTI issues for me.
Meanwhile, I’m blessed to have a husband who understands and is sympathetic (guys– the best thing you can do is hug, hold, massage, offer to draw a hot bath…). I have “only” had a handful of these episodes over our marriage, but when I’m down and out with these symptoms (often accompanied by malaise and depression), I am not a happy camper. It plays a cruel joke with my mind and body—because there is a constant awareness of your pelvic region which can be eerily arousing in a very unsettling and unwelcome way. Penetration would feel like a knife at this stage of discomfort; but it is hard to take your mind off of sexuality. And the more I research this, the more I realize there are quite a few women out there going nuts over this, and very few remedies/answers. My next steps are to eliminate caffeine, sugar, and gluten, which isn’t easy.
I don’t know how or when I will get this resolved, and I just pray for a miracle while I wait to be seen by a specialist. But given the real paucity of information, I wanted to share with those who may have similar issues. You have my sympathies.
Please share your stories here. Women need to support each other.