About half of all women will get a urinary tract infection (UTI) at least once in their lifetime, and about 25 per cent of all women will have recurrent episodes.
A recurrent infection is defined as having two or more UTI episodes within six months, or three or more episodes within a year, said Dr Valerie Gan, a consultant at the Singapore General Hospital's department of urology.
Recurrent UTI is one of the most common problems referred to urologists by primary care physicians.
Women are at greater risk of developing such an infection than men, who rarely suffer a repeat episode. But when it does happen, it usually indicates an underlying cause, such as urinary stones. Recurrent UTI among men requires further evaluation, said Dr Gan.
Urinary tract infections are most commonly caused by bacteria and some people take cranberry juice in the belief that it can help prevent infection.
"There is conflicting evidence regarding the efficacy of cranberry products and lactobacillus probiotics in preventing UTI," said Dr Gan. "However, these are unlikely to be harmful if taken as supplements in the prevention of UTI."
She dispenses tips on how to reduce the risk of such infections.
1. Drink enough fluids: It helps to dilute urine and flush away the bacteria.
2. Empty the bladder after sexual intercourse: It helps to flush out bacteria and decrease the chances of a recurrent infection. It is a sensible practice, but there is no medical evidence to say it helps.
3. Avoid contraceptive methods such as diaphragms and spermicides: These devices can contribute to bacterial growth.
4. Use vaginal oestrogen
This comes in the form of a topical cream or vaginal tablets and may benefit post-menopausal women.
Low oestrogen levels have been linked to the thinning of the vaginal lining, with a decrease in cellular glycogen. The lack of protective lactobacilli and the decrease in tissue quality also make it easier for bacteria to be introduced.
5. Do not douche: Douching has not been shown to decrease the frequency of UTI. In fact, it may increase the likelihood of infection.
If you show signs of UTI, you should seek treatment and get your urine tested, said Dr Gan. The infection needs to be treated as the bacteria will not go away on their own.
Drinking water may help alleviate the symptoms but it does not get rid of the infection, she said. "If left alone, a simple UTI involving the bladder may infect the kidneys."
She added: "The patient may develop systemic symptoms like fever and may require hospitalisation for intravenous antibiotics."
Antibiotics, she said, are the mainstay treatment for UTI.