The E. Coli and UTI Connection: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment
Ever had a painful urinary tract infection? They are pretty hard to forget. Most likely E. coli caused that UTI. I’m sure you know that bacteria already – we often worry about it when it comes to our food and digestive systems.
What is this bacteria? Where to we pick it up?
And why is an intestinal bacteria so often causing bladder infections? Let’s find out.
What Is E. Coli?
Here’s the simple definition: E. coli (or Escherichia coli) is a bacteria normally in the intestines/digestive system of both humans and animals.
There is not only one type of E. coli – and there is a wide variety of negative infections and symptoms you can get when this bacteria becomes a problem. But then there are some types of E. coli that are entirely harmless.
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Where Is E. Coli Found?
Here are the main places where we pick up E. coli:
1. People & Animals
Since E. coli is carried in feces, not washing your hands after a bowel movement becomes a real problem for everyone around you. That E. coli can get on your hands (unseen, of course), and then it can get on everything else.
Similarly, coming into contact with animals (who are obviously not cleaning after bowel movements) is an easy way to pick up the bacteria.
All of this really boils down to washing your hands – after you use the bathroom, after you touch animals, or after you are around crowds of people (especially schools).
2. Food & Water
Much of our exposure to E. coli comes from food handling. Issues can arise when we do not wash our hands, do not properly wash produce, eat food that has not been stored at the appropriate temperature, do not cook meat to the right temperature, and use utensils or dishes that have not been cleaned properly.
We can also get it from raw meats or unpasteurized milk.
E. coli can sometimes be found in water. If an animal (or human) has gone to the bathroom near a water source, E. coli can then be found in the drinking water.
All this really boils down to handling food with care, ensuring meat is well cooked, and taking the time to wash produce and cooking surfaces.
To get a much better understanding of E. coli in our produce, check out CNN’s investigative report on E. coli and leafy greens:
Symptoms Of E. Coli
What E. coli does to your body greatly depends on what type of E. coli you have and what type of infection it is causing.
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When E. coli causes an infection in your digestive tract, you can have:
- Blood in your stool (often diarrhea)
- Cramping in your abdomen
When E. coli causes an infection in your blood or kidneys, you can have:
- Bruises and pale skin
When E. coli causes an infection in your urinary tract, you can have:
- Burning sensation when you urinate
- Frequent urge to urinate, though very little may come out
- Bloody or cloudy urine
- Pain in abdomen, lower back, or hips
It probably makes sense to all of us why E. coli could infect the digestive tract (since that is where it often lives – or where infected food could go) or the blood – but why is E. coli such an issue for UTIs?
What Is The E. Coli/UTI Connection?
E. coli causes almost all urinary tract infections – around 85% of them. While other bacteria like staphylococcus can also lead to these painful infections – it is important to understand why E. coli is the “king of the UTI” so to speak.
We will often have the E. coli in our own body. In one way or another, that E. coli makes it to our urethra. This often happens when people wipe from back to front, but sex is another common way for this spreading to occur.
Also keep this in mind. Women have far more UTIs than men. This is largely due to their urethras. Not only is a female urethra considerably shorter (which shortens the journey E. coli has to make to arrive at the bladder), it is also very close to the anus.
As much as we do not want to think about it, that proximity leads to bacteria contamination.
How Can E. Coli Be Beat?
Though certain types of E. coli can be quite serious, UTIs are typically fairly harmless (albeit annoying and painful!).
Normally a urinary tract infection is treated with a round of antibiotics. This is able to kill the bacteria (which, as we already know, will probably be E. coli). Ciprofloxacin (or Cipro for short) is a common choice, as is Bactrim.
But there is a rising problem among E. coli UTIs…
What About Antibiotic Resistant E. Coli?
Now let’s get to the saddest part of this story. More and more E. coli bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics.
In fact, between the years of 2000 and 2010, scientists discovered the amount of E. coli resistance toward common antibiotics (like the Cipro) “increased substantially.”
This is a real issue. If antibiotics do not work, we can have a real issue when an infection becomes severe.
Why is it happening? Overexposure.
- First off, antibiotics are being heavily prescribed. Around 80% of Americans who go to the doctor with sinus issues will be given a round of antibiotics – even though it is entirely possible it is a virus, not a bacterial infection.
- We are also increasing our exposure in the food we eat. Antibiotics are also being heavily prescribed to animals (often in the food they eat). Then we eat those animals. Which brings us right back around to E. coli specifically: One study showed the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant E. coli in broiler chickens is quite high. These are the types of chickens bread primarily for their meat – the meat we eat.
So What Else Can We Do About E. Coli and UTIs?
Is there any hope for treating UTIs when antibiotics are becoming less and less effective? Absolutely! Here are some all-natural health boosters that have been scientifically shown to help urinary tract infections:
- Take a D-mannose supplement: This natural sugar was looked at in a study of over 300 women. Some were given D-mannose, others an antibiotics, and others no treatment at all. In six months, the D-mannose group only had a 14.6% recurrent UTI rate; the antibiotic group had 20.4%. Plus, the D-mannose group showed fewer side effects.
- Try a hibiscus extract supplement: Multiple studies have shown that hibiscus extract is an effective inhibitor of E. coli.
- Prevent the spread: Do proactive things to prevent the spread of E. coli to the urinary tract. This includes wiping from front to back, washing your hands frequently, and using the bathroom immediately after sex.
Of course, you should also drink plenty of water, take a probioitic (good bacteria is important here), and make sure your diet is filled with immune-boosting foods.