House Call: Don’t treat urinary problems lightly

Have you ever felt like you need to urinate even though you just went? What about feeling like you have to go, but nothing happens when you get to the toilet? These are some of the possible symptoms when something is wrong in your urinary system.

Your urinary system includes kidneys, ureters (the tubes that connect your kidneys to your bladder), bladder and urethra (the tube that connects your bladder to the outside of your body). Urinary problems can also cause a burning feeling when urinating; pain over the lower ribs on either side of your back; fever; blood in the urine, which can be red, brown or pink; involuntary leaking urine, and nausea and vomiting.

It is uncommon for urinary tract issues to cause someone to only have a fever or nausea without any other symptoms, but it does happen sometimes in people with other chronic illnesses, individuals who are paralyzed and the elderly.

Urinary symptoms should be taken seriously. Although blood in the urine is usually from an infection, it can also be a sign of bladder cancer, which is rarely fatal if detected early. Bladder infections, which most commonly cause increased frequency of urination and a burning feeling when urinating, are easily treated with antibiotics when caught early. If infection spreads to the kidneys or blood, it can be significantly more difficult to treat and can permanently scar your kidneys.

Kidney stones are fairly common. They rarely cause pain or problems if they are sitting in the kidneys and are not too big. However, stones that move into the ureter are quite painful and can block the flow of urine, causing swelling of the kidney.

In men, an enlarged prostate causes difficulty emptying the bladder, increased need to urinate and increased bladder pressure. The bladder may enlarge and there can be complications. This can also happen if the prostate is enlarged by cancer.

Feeling an urge to urinate often can also be a symptom of highly treatable overactive bladder in men and women.

Aging can sometimes result in urinary problems such as incontinence. You should not just tolerate this because there are treatments, including medications, pelvic floor muscle exercises, bladder training, dietary or lifestyle adjustments and surgery.

When you see your health care provider about bladder problems, blood and/or urine tests may be needed to make a diagnosis. Your urine can be tested for blood, bacteria, protein levels and many other things. More complicated tests, such as measuring the pressure inside your bladder, your bladder volume or how efficiently your bladder functions, may also be required to determine the cause of your symptoms.

At all ages, there are things you can do to help keep your urinary tract healthy and avoid problems.

• Do not smoke. It increases your chance of bladder and kidney cancer.

• Urinate frequently. Most people need to go every few hours.

• Empty your bladder completely.

• Drink plenty of water throughout the day.

• Protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections.

• Urinate after having sex.

• If you notice that you have any urinary symptoms like those described above after consuming certain foods, reduce or eliminate them from your diet.

• Maintain a healthy body weight.

You can get detailed information on urological health and conditions from the Urology Care Foundation ( www.urologyhealth.org).

Take care of your urinary system and if you have problems that make you think something is not right, get it checked by your health care provider so you, your bladder and your kidneys can stay healthy.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section.

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