What Is a Genital Tract Infection?

Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria entering the tract. There are different situations that could make it urgent for you to seek medical care, but most of the time, it can be treated with simple cranberry juice or antibiotics. Learn more here.

8 minute read

Last Updated July 13, 2020

Genital Tract Infection Treatment - Immunity - 1MD

Genital or urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria entering the tract. The symptoms you experience are the result of your body’s defenses overcoming the infection.

The bladder, kidneys, and tubes that run between them are affected by these infections, and they are one of the most common types of infection that humans develop. 

The majority of genital tract infections are caused by the bacterium E. Coli, which is found in the digestive system. Each area of the genital tract can be infected, and each infection has its own name, depending on this location. 

Cystitis is the name for a bladder infection, urethritis for a urethra infection, and pyelonephritis for kidney infections. 

Genital Tract Infection Symptoms

The signs of a genital tract infection will depend on your age, gender, and which part of the tract is infected. The most common symptoms experienced include:

♦ Strong and frequent need to urinate
♦ Nausea and vomiting
♦ Cloudy, bloody, or strong-smelling urine
♦ Burning or pain when urinating
♦ Abdominal pain

Risk Factors for Genital Tract Infections

Men and women can develop these infections, but they are more common among women. Genital tract infections in men are rare, but the risk of infection does increase with age. 

Men with a circumcised penis are more at risk. In contrast to men, 50 percent of women are estimated to experience a genital tract infection during their lifetime, with almost 30 percent of these being recurrent infections.

The factors that increase your risk for genital tract infections include:

♦ Poor personal hygiene
♦ Having a catheter
♦ Pregnancy
♦ Frequent sexual intercourse with new partners
♦ Heavy use of antibiotics
♦ Use of spermicides and tampons

Along with bacteria getting into the genital tract, there are also several conditions associated with genital tract infections.

Diabetes: People with diabetes are more prone to genital tract infections because they have poor circulation, which reduces the ability of white blood cells to travel through the body and fight bacteria. High blood glucose levels also increase your risk for genital tract infections, so those with diabetes need to monitor blood sugar carefully. 

Chlamydia: An infection caused by specific bacteria called chlamydia, which is usually sexually transmitted. The symptoms are similar to genital tract infections. If chlamydia is left untreated, the infection can spread to the bladder and kidneys.

Microbiome imbalance: When the beneficial bacteria living in your gut become diminished, harmful bacteria can take over. This imbalance allows for harmful bacteria to enter and spread throughout the body easily, causing more frequent infections.

Incontinence: A common sign of a genital tract infection incontinence, so it should not be ignored. Feeling an urgent need to urinate and a burning sensation are associated with incontinence. Once the infection is cleared, the incontinence will go away. 

Kidney stones: People with kidney stones or blockages are more likely to develop genital tract infections. When urine and waste are not able to flow freely through the filtration system in your kidneys, bacteria can get easily trapped and cause infection.

Suppressed immune system: Certain diseases like HIV and cancer can cause your immune system to weaken. As a result, your body can not fight off infections as effectively. Some individuals with autoimmune conditions take immunosuppressant medications, which also interfere with immunity. A weakened or suppressed immune system can, therefore, allow for more frequent genital tract infections. 

Mycoplasma bacteria: These live within your genital tract, but small amounts are relatively harmless. If allowed to grow and accumulate as a result of illness, diet, or microbiome imbalance, the infection can develop in any part of the genital tract. 

Diagnosis of Genital Tract Infections

The diagnosis starts with a discussion of your symptoms. A urine test will be done to confirm if bacteria, white blood cells, or red blood cells are present. 

When collecting urine, the person needs to wash their genital area before urinating. This “clean-catch” method prevents any bacteria around the outside genitalia from getting caught in the sample. 

If an infection is noted, further diagnostic testing will be done to evaluate the location and severity of the infection.

♦ Urodynamics determine how well the urinary tract is storing and releasing urine.
Imaging, such as an ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan, will evaluate each section of the genital tract in more detail.

♦ Cystoscopy allows doctors to see inside the bladder with a camera lens.

Genital Tract Infection Treatment

Antibiotics and antimicrobials are the most common treatment since the culprit is usually bacteria. The specific type of medication you are given will depend on the severity of your symptoms and your medical history. 

It is important to complete the course of prescribed medications to make sure the infection is fully gone. Symptoms may disappear before the bacteria are eradicated, and stopping early can result in a reoccurrence. 

Most genital tract infections clear within a few days of treatment unless there are any complications. Complicated infections involve those that are weakened by another condition such as pregnancy. In these cases, treatment will take longer. 

If the cause of the infection is found to exist within the genital tract itself, the underlying issue or condition needs to be treated to avoid damage to the kidneys. 

Natural Treatments for Genital Tract Infections

Alongside your course of prescribed medications, there are home remedies you can try to reduce symptoms and prevent the recurrence of genital tract infections. 

Drinking fluids: This is especially important as it helps to flush any bacteria from the body.

Heating pads: A heating pad can help to ease pains and discomfort associated with a genital tract infection.

Cranberries: Cranberry extract, in particular, can help to prevent recurrent genital tract infections but cannot be used to treat an active case.

Probiotics: Since a gut bacterial balance can increase the risk of genital tract infections, probiotics can help to maintain a healthy gut balance which will reduce the risk for genital tract infections. Probiotics that contain Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus are highly recommended. When taking probiotics, it is also advised to add NutraFlora prebiotic fiber to your diet. These nourish the probiotics to support their health, which works towards preventing the colonization of harmful bacteria.

L-lysine is an additional supplement that can help treat genital tract infections naturally. This amino acid is known to fight and inhibit the activity of the herpes simplex virus. It is commonly used to treat cold sores associated with the virus. When taken as a supplement, it can prevent the activation of the virus and reduce symptoms.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook? 

Genital tract infections are treatable, but if left untreated, you can develop complications. Recurrent kidney infection can cause permanent damage that can be life-threatening. 

If any bacteria are able to enter the bloodstream, a potentially fatal condition known as septicemia can develop. Identifying a genital tract infection early gives the best possible outcome, and with some additions to your diet, you can prevent any infection from coming back again. 

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