Bladder infections or cystitis are the most common type of urinary tract infection or UTI, and affect between 2 and 7 percent of all pregnant women. Doctors begin screening for a UTI at the very first prenatal exam during early pregnancy. To maintain prenatal health, it is important for pregnant women to take proactive measures to reduce the likelihood of developing a bladder infection and to recognize the symptoms in order to call a doctor when necessary.
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Bacteria are behind all UTIs. More specifically, Escherichia coli accounts for 80 to 90 percent of infections, and an assortment of other bacteria are responsible for the rest. During pregnancy, the growing uterus is more likely to block the drainage of urine from the bladder, increasing the likelihood of infection.
While some women do not feel any symptoms until a bladder infection has progressed to a kidney infection, classic bladder infection symptoms include a burning sensation while urinating and frequent but small amounts of urine accompanied by pain or discomfort. Some women may note their urine contains blood, appears cloudy and/or has a strong odor. Further signs can include pain during intercourse, cramps or pain in the lower abdomen. Signs that a bladder infection has spread to the kidneys may include back pain, chills, fever, nausea and vomiting.
Screening for UTI during early pregnancy is often performed at the first prenatal visit. During this visit, a pregnant woman must use a “clean catch” method to collect a proper urine sample. Using a cleansing towelette provided by the practice, a woman must gently clean the vulva, urinate a small amount into the toilet, and capture the rest in a specimen cup. Lab technicians will then test for traces of bacteria in the urine.
Doctors usually prescribe a course of antibiotics that can range in length from three to seven days. Doctors may also prescribe the medication phenazopyridine, known by its brand name Pyridium, to numb the bladder and relieve discomfort while the antibiotics treat the bacteria. Pregnant women should call a doctor if during treatment they experience fever greater than 100.5 degrees, pains in the back, lower abdomen or side, or nausea and vomiting. If the burning feeling does not subside after three days on antibiotics, or if contractions appear during this time, it is important to consult a physician.
Women are at increased risk for developing all types of UTIs between weeks 6 and 24 of pregnancy. However, if a doctor does not find bacteria in the urine on the first visit, it is unlikely an infection will develop later on unless a woman has other risk factors. Risk factors can include a history of UTIs or being a sickle cell trait carrier.
Untreated urinary tract infections can lead to kidney infections, which in turn can cause uterine contractions and potential early labor. Fortunately, in most cases doctors are able to diagnose and treat bladder infections before they reach the point where they can harm the baby.
Pregnant women can take several measures to reduce the likelihood of a bladder infection or any other kind of UTI. Pregnant women should drink plenty of fluids, including water and unsweetened cranberry juice. In addition, woman should take steps to eliminate refined foods, fruit juices and drinks with alcohol and sugar. Women should be sure to urinate as soon as the urge hits, as well as before and after intercourse. After urination, it is important to blot dry from front to back in order to keep the genital area as clean as possible. Keep the genital area dry and bacteria free by wearing clean cotton-crotch underwear and pantyhose, and by wearing pants that are loose in the crotch. Women should skip using strong soaps, douches and hygiene sprays near or around the vaginal area, and avoid bathtub soaks longer than a half hour twice weekly.