You may have read about Mariana Bridi da Costa, the 20-year-old Brazilian model and beauty queen who died on Jan. 24.

Bridi made headlines when a drug-resistant urinary tract infection (UTI) led to septicemia (blood poisoning), forcing doctors to amputate her hands and feet in an effort to save her life. Shortly thereafter, she lost her battle against the virulent bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Bridi’s case serves as a sobering reminder, regardless of whether you seek traditional or alternative medical care: You need a prompt diagnosis at the first signs and symptoms of a UTI, as infection can quickly worsen and spread. Left untreated, a simple UTI can spell trouble for the bladder, kidneys and other organs. Your doctor must culture your urine to determine whether you have a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics.

“The recent death of this young woman is a tragic reminder of the importance of maintaining good urologic health,” says Sandra Vassos, executive director of the American Urological Association. “It is important to know the symptoms of a UTI and when to seek the advice of a urologist.”

Anatomy of a UTI

UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply in the urethra, whose lining becomes red and irritated. If the infection goes unchecked, bacteria can spread, moving through the urinary tract to the bladder (cystitis) and through the ureters into the kidneys (pyelonephritis).

Untreated kidney infections are extremely dangerous and can lead to life-threatening conditions like bacteremia (bacteria in the bloodstream) and septicemia, which claimed Bridi’s life. The latter causes inflammation throughout the body, which can result in decreased blood flow, decreased blood pressure, and possible organ failure and shock.

Signs and Symptoms

Frequent and sometimes painful urination is a common UTI symptom. Urine may also be cloudy or have a stronger odor than usual.

In some cases, you may see blood in the urine. It’s a common sign of infection, but it may also be caused by a more serious problem in the urinary tract. Prompt medical attention is critical if you spot blood.

Prevention

To avoid a UTI, follow these guidelines from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases:

  • Don’t delay or resist the urge to urinate.
  • Don’t rush while urinating. You need to empty your bladder completely.
  • Drink plenty of water each day.
  • Wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria around the anus from entering the vagina or urethra.
  • Take showers instead of tub baths.
  • Cleanse the genital area before sexual intercourse.
  • Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays and scented douches, which may irritate the urethra.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this article, which examines what cranberry juice can—and can’t—do for UTIs.

Editor’s Note: For more health-related articles, please visit our Health Articles Archive and the Health Section of our Organic Blog.

Illustrations courtesy of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health