Urinary Tract Infections: Know It All
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection from microbes in any part of your urinary system. A UTI can happen anywhere in your urinary tract. Your urinary tract is made up of your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most UTIs only involve the urethra and bladder, in the lower tract. However, UTIs can involve the ureters and kidneys, in the upper tract. Although upper tract UTIs are rarer than lower tract UTIs, they’re also usually more severe.
If you’re a woman, your chance of getting a urinary tract infection is high. Some experts rank your lifetime risk of getting one as high as 1 in 2, with many women having repeat infections, sometimes for years. About 1 in 10 men will get a UTI in their lifetime.
Your urine typically doesn’t contain bacteria (germs). Urine is a byproduct of our filtration system—the kidneys. When waste products and excess water is removed from your blood by the kidneys, urine is created. Normally, urine moves through your urinary system without any contamination. However, bacteria can get into the urinary system from outside the body, causing problems like infection and inflammation. This is a urinary tract infection (UTI).
What Causes Urinary Tract Infections?
Urinary tract infections typically occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder. Although the urinary system is designed to keep out such microscopic invaders, these defenses sometimes fail. When that happens, bacteria may take hold and grow into a full-blown infection in the urinary tract.
- Urinary tract abnormalities: Babies born with urinary tract abnormalities that don’t allow urine to leave the body normally or cause urine to back up in the urethra have an increased risk of UTIs.
- Blockages in the urinary tract: Kidney stones or an enlarged prostate can trap urine in the bladder and increase the risk of UTIs.
- A suppressed immune system:Diabetes and other diseases that impair the immune system — the body’s defense against germs — can increase the risk of UTIs.
- Catheter use: People who can’t urinate on their own and use a tube (catheter) to urinate have an increased risk of UTIs. This may include people who are hospitalized, people with neurological problems that make it difficult to control their ability to urinate, and people who are paralyzed.
- A recent urinary procedure: Urinary surgery or an exam of your urinary tract that involves medical instruments can both increase your risk of developing a urinary tract infection.
- Age: Older adults are more likely to get UTIs.
- A previous UTI
- Diabetes: Especially if poorly controlled, which may make it more likely for you to get a UTI.
- Female anatomy.A woman has a shorter urethra than a man does, which shortens the distance that bacteria must travel to reach the bladder.
- Certain types of birth control.Women who use diaphragms for birth control may be at higher risk, as well as women who use spermicidal agents.
- After menopause, a decline in circulating estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract that make you more vulnerable to infection.
- Infection of the bladder (cystitis):This type of UTI is usually caused by Escherichia coli (E.coli), a type of bacteria commonly found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. However, sometimes other bacteria are responsible.
- Sexual intercourse: Sexual intercourse may lead to cystitis, but you don’t have to be sexually active to develop it. All women are at risk of cystitis because of their anatomy — specifically, the short distance from the urethra to the anus and the urethral opening to the bladder.
- Infection of the urethra (urethritis).This type of UTI can occur when GI bacteria spread from the anus to the urethra. Also, because the female urethra is close to the vagina, sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and mycoplasma, can cause urethritis.
- Condom use during sex: Non-lubricated latex condoms may increase friction and irritate the skin of women during sexual intercourse. This may increase the risk of a UTI.
Most UTI risk factors for men are the same as those for women. However, having an enlarged prostate is one risk factor for a UTI that’s unique to men.
What are the Types of Urinary Tract Infections?
There are three different types of urinary tract infections. The type of infection depends on which part of the urinary tract is infected. A urinary tract infection may involve different sections of the urinary tract including the following:
- Urethritis: An infection of the urethra, the hollow tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. This can cause a discharge and burning when you urinate.
- Cystitis: A bacterial infection in the bladder that often has moved up from the urethra. You might feel like you need to urinate a lot, or it might hurt when you pass urine. You might also have lower belly pain and cloudy or bloody urine.
- Pyelonephritis: An infection of the kidneys that is usually a result of an infection that has spread up the tract, or from an obstruction in the urinary tract. An obstruction in the urinary tract causes urine to backflow into the ureters and kidneys. This can cause fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and pain in your upper back or side.
What are the Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections?
A urinary tract infection causes the lining of the urinary tract to become red and irritated (inflammation), which may produce some following symptoms:
- Pain in the side (flank), abdomen, or pelvic area.
- Pressure in the lower pelvis.
- Frequent need to urinate (frequency), urgent need to urinate (urgency), and Incontinence (urine leakage).
- Painful urination (dysuria) and blood in the urine.
- The need to urinate at night.
- Abnormal urine color (cloudy urine) and strong or foul-smelling urine.
- Pain during sex.
- Penis pain.
- Flank (side of the body) pain or lower back pain.
- Fever (temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and chills.
- Mental changes or confusion.
How are Urinary Tract Infections Treated?
You will need to treat a urinary tract infection. Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria and fight infection and are mostly used to treat Urinary Tract infections. You must follow your healthcare provider’s directions for taking the medicine. Don’t stop taking the antibiotic because your symptoms go away, and you start feeling better. If the infection is not treated completely with the full course of antibiotics, it can return.
If you have a history of frequent urinary tract infections, you may be given a prescription for antibiotics that you would take at the first onset of symptoms. Other patients may be given antibiotics to take every day, every other day, or after sexual intercourse to prevent the infection. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best treatment option for you if you have a history of frequent UTIs.
If you have frequent UTIs, your doctor may make certain treatment recommendations, such as:
- Low-dose antibiotics, initially for six months but sometimes longer
- Self-diagnosis and treatment, if you stay in touch with your doctor
- A single dose of antibiotic after sexual intercourse if your infections are related to sexual activity
- Vaginal estrogen therapy if you’re postmenopausal
Urinary tract infections can be painful, but you can take steps to ease your discomfort until antibiotics treat the infection. Follow these tips:
- Drink plenty of water: Water helps to dilute your urine and flush out bacteria.
- Avoid drinks that may irritate your bladder:Avoid coffee, alcohol, and soft drinks containing citrus juices or caffeine until your infection has cleared. They can irritate your bladder and tend to aggravate your frequent or urgent need to urinate.
- Use a heating pad:Apply a warm, but not hot, heating pad to your abdomen to minimize bladder pressure or discomfort.
- Cranberry juice: Many people drink cranberry juice to prevent UTIs. There’s some indication that cranberry products, in either juice or tablet form, may have infection-fighting properties.
What Type of Bacteria Cause Urinary Tract Infections?
A UTI occurs when bacteria enter the bladder, usually through the urethra (urine tube), and begin to multiply. Urine contains fluids, salts, and waste products but is sterile or free of bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing organisms. A UTI occurs when bacteria from another source, such as the nearby anus, get into the urethra. The most common bacteria found to cause UTIs is Escherichia coli (E. coli). Other bacteria can cause UTI, but E. coli is the culprit about 90 percent of the time. E. coli normally lives harmlessly in the human intestinal tract, but it can cause serious infections if it gets into the urinary tract. E. Coli causes 70-95% of both upper and lower UTIs. Various organisms are responsible for the remainder of infections, including S saprophyticus, Proteus species, Klebsiella species, Enterococcus faecalis, other Enterobacteriaceae, and yeast. Some species are more common in certain subgroups, such as Staphylococcus saprophyticus in young women.
How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections?
You can take these steps to reduce your risk of urinary tract infections:
- Drink plenty of liquids, especially water:Drinking water helps dilute your urine and ensures that you’ll urinate more frequently — allowing bacteria to be flushed from your urinary tract before an infection can begin.
- Drink cranberry juice:Although studies are not conclusive that cranberry juice prevents UTIs, it is likely not harmful.
- Wipe from front to back:Doing so after urinating and after a bowel movement helps prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
- Empty your bladder soon after intercourse: Also, drink a full glass of water to help flush bacteria.
- Avoid potentially irritating feminine products:Using deodorant sprays or other feminine products, such as douches and powders, in the genital area can irritate the urethra.
- Change your birth control method: Diaphragms, or unlubricated or spermicide-treated condoms, can all contribute to bacterial growth.
- Take probiotics: Probiotics are live microorganisms that can increase good gut bacteria. They may also help promote the growth of good bacteria in the urinary tract. This could help protect you from getting a UTI.
- Avoid holding your urine: Avoid holding your urine, as this can encourage bacterial growth. Try not to wait more than 3 to 4 hours to urinate, and completely empty your bladder each time.
Types of Antibiotics for Urinary Tract Infections
Antibiotics are typically used to treat urinary tract infections. Your healthcare provider will pick a drug that best treats the particular bacteria that’s causing your infection. Some commonly used antibiotics can include:
- Sulfonamides (sulfa drugs).
- Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim®).
- Quinolones (such as ciprofloxacin [Cipro®]).
Though Urinary Tract Infections are a serious health issue, with treatments, one can overcome the problems. Hopefully, this article gave you some insight into Urinary Tract Infections.