Alcohol abuse can put people at risk for several physical health problems, including organ damage. Can it also be harmful to the urinary tract? In other words, can drinking cause a UTI?
What Is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection, or a UTI, can involve any part of the urinary system (which includes the urethra, kidneys, ureters, and bladder). It’s possible to have a UTI and not even realize it, because they don’t always cause obvious symptoms. In cases where symptoms do occur they can include the following:
- Persistent urge to urinate
- Pressure in the lower part of the abdomen
- Urinating often, but only a small amount each time
- Experiencing a burning or painful sensation during urination
- Urine that looks cloudy or has signs of blood
- Urine that gives off a particularly powerful odor
UTIs occur most commonly among women, but men are not immune from this type of an infection.
With proper treatment (which usually involved antibiotics), UTIs can typically be cleared up fairly quickly, so there is minimal risk of lasting harm. However, persistent infections or ones that go unnoticed for an extended period can lead to a variety of health concerns, such as:
- Narrowing of the urethra
- Permanent damage to the kidneys
An untreated UTI during pregnancy can also be a source of birth-related complications, such premature birth and/or low birth rate.
Can Drinking Cause a UTI?
Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria. This means that the answer to the question, “Can drinking cause a UTI?” is no, it cannot.
Common risk factors for UTIs include:
- Personal history of prior urinary tract infections
- Family history of UTIs
- Sexual activity
- Being pregnant
- Being born a woman
- Changes in bacteria in the vagina, which can be cause by the use of certain spermicides
- Having an enlarged prostate
- Using a catheter
- Poor hygiene
Although we have already established that alcohol cannot directly cause a UTI, that doesn’t mean that there is no possible connection between drinking and contracting a urinary tract infection.
One of the potential effects of heavy drinking is immune system dysfunction, or an impairment in your body’s ability to fight off UTIs and other types of infections.
Also, being intoxicated can raise your risk for unprotected sex, which has been linked with UTIs.
Will Drinking Make a UTI Worse?
In addition to asking, can drinking cause a UTI, it can also be common to wonder if drinking can prevent a UIT from healing or actually make the problem worse.
As we noted earlier in this post, treatment for UTIs usually involves antibiotics. Most physicians who prescribe antibiotics for UTIs or any other reasons advise their patients not to drink until they have completed their full course of the medication.
There is a chance that consuming alcohol while you are taking an antibiotic can weaken its effects or cause you to have a bad reaction. Potential side effects of drinking while taking certain antibiotics include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Racing heart rate
- Excessive perspiration
- Confusion and disorientation
Skipping a dose of antibiotics or ending your use of them prematurely because you plan on drinking, and you want to avoid these side effects, can be a dangerous choice.
Unless directed otherwise by your doctor or pharmacist, you should always take the full course of the antibiotics that have been prescribed to you. This ensures that the infection that the medication is treating has been fully eradicated.
Failing to complete the full course can allow the bacteria that caused the UTI to remain in your system. This can lead to re-infection. Improper antibiotic use has also been linked with antibiotic resistance. This means that the bacteria can adapt to develop defenses against the medication.
In other words, choosing to drink alcohol instead of taking the antibiotic that has been prescribed to you can prolong your infection or prevent the medication from doing the job it is designed to do. The best choice is to refrain from drinking until you have completed your full course of antibiotics.
What If I Can’t Stop Drinking?
If you develop a UTI and are prescribed an antibiotic, you may have to take this medication for as little as three days or as long as two weeks. If you’re not capable of remaining abstinent from alcohol for a week or two, this could be a sign that you’ve developed alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for alcohol addiction.
As is the case with UTIs, alcohol addiction is a treatable condition. As is also the case with UTIs, failing to get the right care for alcoholism can lead to myriad additional problems.
It might not be an easy conversation to have, but if you believe that you won’t be able to stop drinking for the duration of time that you need to take an antibiotic, you should discuss this matter with the doctor who prescribed the medication.
Don’t let your dependence on alcohol continue to jeopardize your health. Get the help you need today so that you can enjoy the best possible quality of life for the longest possible time.
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