Are UTIs sexually transmitted?
It is no secret that sex and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are linked, particularly in women. Frequency of sexual activity and exposure to spermicides (essential components of some forms of birth control) are, in the words of Welk and Hickling (2016), “the only behavioural factors significantly associated with repeated UTIs”.
A link between sex and UTIs makes sense, of course, as vaginal sex places the female urethra in contact with bacteria from the genital area. The use of a diaphragm for birth control increases the risk of contracting a UTI further, as not only does the diaphragm itself limit the bladder’s ability to flush out bacteria, but the spermicides diaphragms are treated with can promote the growth of E. coli, the bacterium behind 85-90% of UTI cases.
With such an established link between sexual intercourse and urinary tract infections, it begs the question – what are the first UTI symptoms after sex? What are the earliest signs of the development of a UTI?
Early UTI signs to look out for
There is a running theme in early UTI symptoms, and that is, as you might expect – urine. The first symptoms of urinary tract infections all revolve around urine, either the frequency of urination, the experience of urinating, or the urine itself.
- Painful urination. Perhaps the most widely known symptom of UTIs, dysuria describes a stinging pain or a burning sensation when urinating. It is not the most reliable indicator in isolation, however, as painful urination is experienced “at least occasionally” in approximately 3% of adults older than 40 years, based on a survey of 30,000 men and women carried out by Guralnick, O’Connor and See (2011).
- Frequent urination. Also known as having an overactive bladder. Frequent urination involves feeling the urge to urinate much more than you are used to, but only passing a small amount of urine each time. As a rule of thumb, urologists consider urinating more than 8 times in 24 hours to be frequent urination.
- Blood in urine. No matter how the blood appears in the urine – whether it gives the urine a pinkish hue, or a dark red or brown colouring – if it appears at all, haematuria is a cause for concern. It only takes a small amount of blood to be visible for it to be visible in urine. Speak to a doctor the moment you see blood in your urine.
- Strong-smelling urine. Much like blood in the urine, strong-smelling urine is an immediately observable change that can be an early indicator of a urinary tract infection. That said, urine can take on a strong smell if you are dehydrated, or even if you recently ate asparagus – so bear this in mind and watch out for the other symptoms mentioned rather than strong-smelling urine on its own.
- Cloudy urine. Typically, urine is clear with either a light yellow or full yellow colouring depending on how hydrated you are. As soon as you have an infection at any point in the urinary tract, pus comprising dead skin cells, bacteria or white blood cells is likely to be visible in the urine, giving it a cloudy, milky or foamy appearance.
- Lower abdominal or back pain. A symptom associated with several conditions, hence why it has been relegated to the bottom of this list. Sensitivity or a feeling of pressure around the abdominal region can be an indicator of cystitis, while a dull pain in the lower back can indicate a kidney infection – though the latter is often accompanied by shaking, fever and nausea.
Treating a UTI
Typically, UTIs are treated with antibiotics. First instances of uncomplicated UTIs are often treated with 1-3 day courses of treatment, though 7 day courses can be recommended in some cases. No matter what you are prescribed, you should follow the full course as prescribed by your doctor.
In some cases, doctors will also prescribe pain medication alongside the antibiotics – with a view to numbing the bladder and urethra, relieving the burning sensation when urinating, as well as the lower abdominal pressure or pain associated with UTIs.
Hospital treatment might be recommended if your UTI is more severe, for instance if it leads to blood poisoning or septicaemia. For those that contract UTIs on a regular basis, your GP may prescribe repeat medication, or may refer you to a urologist.