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Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) and TCM

Urinary Tract Infections (or “UTIs”) are bacterial infections that most commonly affect the urethra or the bladder. These infections can also occur further up the urinary tract in the ureters or the kidneys. While both men and women can be affected, UTIs are much more common in women. Most women will experience one, and often more than one UTI in their lifetime.


Symptoms can include:

  • A frequent urge to urinate with little to nothing actually coming out
  • Burning or pain when urinating or attempting to urinate
  • Cloudy or strong smelling urine
  • Visible blood in the urine.
  • Back pain (especially if the infection has ascended to the kidneys)

imagesSome women are plagued with recurring UTIs. These women can be considered high risk for a number of reasons. First we must address how these infections occur. 90% of UTIs are caused by Escherichia Coli (E. coli), a bacteria that is found in the lower digestive tract. When bacteria get into the urinary tract and multiply, an infection will often occur. Women in general are more at risk for this due to basic anatomy. The distance between the urethra and the anus is short, allowing for easy entry. Women also have shorter urethras than men (an average of four centimeters vs. twelve), which allows bacteria an easier journey up into the bladder. Some women’s anatomies make them more prone to this than others. Sexual activity is the number one way bacteria find its way into the urethra. Women who are sexually active are at a higher risk for developing UTIs. Other women are more frequently compromised due to: the use of diaphragms and spermicidal agents, menopause, not drinking enough fluids, a suppressed immune system, catheter use, and urinary tract surgeries or examinations.


UTIs are often treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, UTIs can ascend to the kidneys and become a larger problem. If you are pregnant, a UTI can be very dangerous to both you are your baby. It is suggested that if you are a pregnant women experiencing any symptoms related to a UTI, to contact your doctor immediately. With proper early detection and treatment, a UTI will not do you or your baby any harm. However what about non-pregnant women who experience frequent, painful UTIs? These women are often treated with repeated rounds of antibiotics, which lead to their own nasty side effects such as digestive distress, yeast infections, and a weakened immune system.


The key to this cyclic problem of frequent UTIs and repeated antibiotic use is both prevention and very early intervention. This is where acupuncture and Chinese medicine comes in. Acupuncture works as an immune modulator, boosting the immune system to fight against attacking pathogens. The insertion of needles in the lower abdomen near the bladder dilate blood vessels to promote blood flow, and trigger white blood cell and other immune substance activity to help fight off local bacteria. Acupuncture also aids to promote urination and alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with these infections. Herbal medicine can also be a helpful addition to the treatment plan. Some Chinese herbs act as natural antibiotics, diuretics and painkillers to both prevent, and quicken the recovery of UTIs.  

– Marcy Julius, L.Ac.