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Monday, April 23, 2012

Grandma and UTIs: Cranberry fields forever?

It isn't hard to figure out why a larger percentage of women of a certain age contract urinary tract infections more than men or younger women, or why women contract them more as a whole than men. 

Men have their plumbing on the outside. Women have their plumbing on the inside. Like a good house, these differences have their advantages and disadvantages. Outdoor plumbing tends to make for frozen pipes that aren't well insulated in the winter; on the other hand, pipes located in walls mean the plumber might have to send some strong chemicals down the drain, if he or she doesn't have to open a wall...if you know what I mean.

Then there's the Change, also known as Meno the Pause that Refreshes. Our hormonal output changes, and more and more of us are not able or don't want to have hormone replacement therapy.

Whatever the reasons, you know the sudden feelings. The burning sensation "down there" when it's time to tinkle. The itchiness that begs you to run to the bathroom and scratch. The funky smell. Perhaps you even have an unexplained pain in the left side of your nether region. You're running an ever so tiny fever, 99, or is that 101.

If you have no compunctions about antibiotics, run, do not walk, to the doctor or urgent care of your choice. Once there, you will be asked to create a clean catch, that is, go to the restroom and fill a bottle with your urine without involving other parts of your body that could contaminate the urine. The health care provider will run a test stick through it, possibly look at it through a microscope, but the odds are in your favor that you indeed have a UTI. You'll then receive a prescription for Cipro, Monurol, maybe even Keflex. You'll get that filled, take it for 3 days to 2 weeks, again depending on your circumstances, with follow-up on a new clean catch. Good-bye UTI.

Perhaps you don't want to use antibiotics. I know some women hit 60 or so, and their body chemistries change in a big way, maybe even earlier than 60. They've been chowing on the hottest hot sauce and the stinkiest cheeses, and all of the sudden, their gut tells them NO in a big way! The bleu cheese they loved so much is now causing them to break out in hives. You never thought this would mean you are allergic to penicillin-style antibiotics. You know there are alternatives, but right now, you just don't feel like fooling with anything, but that burn and itch!

Maybe you got it treated, but now want to take on a little prevention. The UTI was certainly not a pleasant experience. You have kids to chase, and things to do, and just because there's snow on the roof doesn't mean the furnace is out with the Mister. The UTI is gone, and you want it to stay gone.

Well then! Here's my usual disclaimer that I am in no way, shape or form a healthcare professional, just another grandmother. The advice I'm giving you is just that, free advice.Take it or leave it, as you will.

  1. Rethink seriously that stop at urgent care or the doctor. You are worth it, particularly since you are the driving force behind a family once again. If you have Medicare, it's covered. If you have health insurance, it's covered. It's a co-pay and whatever plan you have for prescriptions. If you don't have either, it's about $150 tops with the exam, urine test and medication. There are alternatives to antibiotics. Some doctors with common sense will be aware of your situation, and offer alternatives. The doc might have samples of some drugs he or she can give you, instead of a prescription. Some doctors charge less for cash patients. Walgreens TakeCare and doctors who do business in Walmarts and Targets are very affordable.
  2. OK, OK! I don't blame you. Anaphylatic shock is certainly not something I wish to experience. The trick here is to treat the symptoms as well as any future bacterial growth. You're going to be sort of out of commission for a couple days, as much as you can be. Get the heating pad or hot water bottle warmed up, as it will become your companion for the groin pain. Feet up, butt down! That's right. Hit the La-Z-Boy and become queen of the remote for a couple days. It's a good time for Grandma Appreciation Days. Let the older kids cook. Let the Mister supervise. You will feel better in a couple of days, enough to clean up whatever mess they made helping you.
  3. You'll probably need pain medication of some sort. Do your allergies and other health issues permit you to take aspirin, ibuprofen? It can be a good idea to use the same pain and fever relief rotation used for kids. Take the prescribed dosage of acetaminophen, followed an hour later by aspirin or ibuprofen, followed in 3 hours from the first dose by acetaminophen, then an hour after that aspirin or ibuprofen.
  4. It's been long-proven that the drink of choice during UTIs is cranberry juice, lots of it- for the first 48 hours, think about consuming 128 ounces or so. Yes, you will be sick of cranberry juice. Yes, your other meals may be replaced by cranberry juice. Taper down to 3 glasses per day the next 48 hours, then one glass a day, every day.
  5. There is a commercial product called Cystex. It cost about $10-15 a bottle retail. Walgreens, Walmart and Target carry it. If I was going to treat my own UTI, I would, in addition to the fountain of cranberry juice I suggested, take 1 tablespoon of Cystex three times a day; morning, afternoon and before bed, for a week. I would then cut it down to one in the morning and one in the afternoon for a week. I would finally cut it to either first thing in the morning or right before bed for at least two more weeks. WARNING: I've heard Cystex can make your urine smell unpleasantly sweet, especially as you're flushing the toxins out of your system. 
  6. Don't like cranberry juice? Tired of cranberry juice? Try pineapple juice, unsweetened. Eat blueberries. Eat pineapple. Eat or drink anything containing capsaicin if your system can handle it: jalapenos, Serranos, cubanels, picante, Rotel, cayenne tea (1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper in 6 ounces of hot water). The capsaicin has the added bonus of being a pain reliever.
  7. I've heard that some doctors recommend anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 units of vitamin C daily for women in our age group with recurring UTIs. I'd go slowly on that one, and get the chewable or gummy candy variety. Vitamin C does a lot of good things for the body, but only you know your tolerance, and moderation is the key. We're talking ascorbic acid here. I'd start out with 1,000 units, spread out over the day, and work up another 500 units every couple of days, noting stomach irritation, rashes, hives, etc., not going over 5,000 units. I personally take 2,000 units a day. There is also a granular form of ascorbic acid, used in pickling and candy making, purchasable in shops that carry bulk spices and the like. A lot of people use it for their cats who have urinary problems, sprinkling it into the cats' food. I'd go lightly, but if it works for the cats, it might work in your oatmeal or beef stew.
  8. Water. You need lots of it, at least 24 ounces a day, every day, from now on. Other juices are not a good idea at this time, other than cranberry and pineapple. Soda pop is not a good idea for a lot of reasons, including the chemicals in it can play havoc with heart medication, if you take any; the carbonation can cause stomach upset instead of relief in our age group. Sugar pop or juice, the sugar is just not a good idea. Avoid caffeine if you can; if especially sensitive, watch out for chocolate, even chocolate covered cranberries or pineapple. It can cause spasms in the urethra, the place where the urine comes out. Measure the water and keep tabs on it. Two plastic, prefilled, 16.9 ounce bottles of water should keep things flowing in a good direction for you, 3 bottles even better. If you don't like buying bottled water, get a dieter's cup with straw and lid at any good drug store, fill it with ice and water, and make sure you drain it into yourself before bed. Be sure to wash it daily in warm, soapy water, rinsing well, or run it through the dish washer on the top rack.
  9. Avoid sugar. If you've already been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, this is a given. If you have not, avoid sugar right now. Don't forget, starch converts to sugar. So, for the duration of the UTI, avoid cookies, crackers, cake, potatoes, snack foods, gravies made with flour, etc. Read labels, and see how much starch is really in the foods you're eating right now.
  10. A UTI does not go away in a couple of days. If you went to the doctor and received a prescription for meds, continue to take them even after you start to feel better. Don't think taking the pills for a day, then saving the rest of the pills for later, whenever later comes, is going to make things better in the long run. If you're going the other route, expect to continue treatment for a month or so, and to enact habits to keep another UTI from occurring any time soon.

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