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In Her Own Words: Living With Chronic Urinary Tract Infections

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Carrie is a project manager working in San Francisco, but living in beautiful Marin County. While in college, she began experiencing painful bladder infections —anywhere from six to eight a year. With treatment, she has it down to one a year. Now she has more pain-free time to enjoy the things she loves to do, like painting, hiking, and spending time with friends.

What was your first sign that something was wrong? What symptoms did you experience?

I experienced increased frequency in the need to relieve myself. I remember not being able to sit through a two-hour class in college without sneaking out to use the rest room. This was a permanent state even when I was not experiencing a urinary tract infection .

A typical infection would come on in a wave. I would feel a tightening and then a burning sensation while urinating. I called it the "fire pee." Once this started, the urgency to urinate would occur every 15 minutes and only a few drops would actually come out. This is a debilitating condition where immediate attention is required.

During this time period, I was getting full infections about every six weeks. And off I would go to the university's health clinic to beg for drugs for relief.

What was the diagnosis experience like?

It was the same frustrating thing every time. I would feel the burn and know what it was. And then off to the doctor's office to pee in the cup. Since the frequency of the infections was above the normal level, I was diagnosed with a chronic condition.

What was your initial and then longer-term reaction to the diagnosis?

Well, although it was painful, so many people have much worse things to deal with. You have to put things in perspective. Sometimes though, it would hurt so bad and I would get mad and think, "Why does this always happen to me?" At the time, I had a roommate who had chronic yeast infections . We couldn't decide who had the worse condition. We were both miserable!

How are urinary tract infections treated?

I was always prescribed sulfa drugs. But I kept getting infections so I decided to see a specialist (urologist). During the examination it was determined that my urethra was too small and that was why I kept getting infections—somewhat like a tight sinus cavity. The doctor decided it needed to be stretched. This was done in his office. It was not pleasant. It was painful, but worth it. After the procedure my symptoms were reduced greatly. Now, I only have an infection about once a year.

Did you have to make any lifestyle or dietary changes in response to having chronic urinary tract infections?

There are a few things you can do to help prevent a recurrence. One is to go to the bathroom after sex. It may be a little inconvenient to get up and use the rest room when you just want to fall asleep, but trust me, this is a good habit to get into.

Drinking cranberry juice is another preventive treatment. And I don't drink the cranberry juice with a ton of sugar. You have to read the label and make sure that it actually has some juice in it.

Did you seek any type of emotional support?

Friends and family have always been sympathetic to the issue. But no special counseling was needed.

Did having chronic urinary tract infections have an impact on your family?

No, not really—except for that they have been understanding of my pain.

What advice would you give to anyone living with chronic urinary tract infections?

Once you feel the first signs of infection, don't wait; see your doctor immediately. It can turn into a full kidney infection , which is really painful and can be very serious. You can get a prescription of sulfa drugs, which for me, worked like magic.

Interviews were conducted in the past and may not reflect current standards and practices in medicine. Talk to your doctor to learn more about how this condition is diagnosed and managed today and what treatment approaches are right for you.