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Urinary Tract Infections - Overview
A UTI is an infection of your urinary tract where bacteria gets into your urine and travels up to your bladder. The role of the urinary tract is to make and store urine until it is emptied by urinating through the urethra, which is a tube that connects the bladder to the skin. When you have a UTI, the lining of the bladder and urethra become red and irritated just as your throat does when you have a cold. The irritation can cause pain in your lower abdomen pelvic area and even lower back, and will usually make you feel like urinating more often.
Table of Contents
What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
A urinary tract infection is a common occurrence and type of infection that can affect the urinary system. It involves different parts of the urinary system – the urethra, ureters, bladder, and kidneys. Typically, the urine does not contain any bacteria or germs. Urine is essentially known as the by-product of the filtration system (kidneys). The blood removes any kind of waste product and excess water and that is what creates urine. In a person with no UTI, urine would move through the system without any contamination. At times, bacteria can enter the urinary system from outside the body and that can lead to issues like infections and inflammation. This is what can be understood as a urinary tract infection.
What are the different Types of Urinary Tract Infections?
- Urethritis: Infection that occurs in the Urethra.
- Vaginitis: Infection that occurs in the Vagina
- Cystitis: Infection that occurs in the Bladder
- Pyelonephritis: Infection that occurs in the Kidneys
What are the Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections?
Often, a UTI is diagnosed early and can be treated. Even if it reaches the upper part of the urinary system, with intravenous antibiotics, the infection can be cleared within a week. However, the more complicated part of this infection would take longer to heal. Since its symptoms are more severe and can affect the person in problematic ways, it can remain in the body for a long while. Complicated UTI symptoms would look like this:
- Frequent urination
- Pain during urination
- Blood in the urine
- Pain in the pelvic region, groin, or lower back
- Fever or shivering
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
- Aches throughout the body
- Confusion and feeling cognitively impaired.
Who Is At Risk of having UTIs?
While UTI can affect anyone, there are some risk factors that increase your chances of developing the condition.
These risk factors may include:
- Sex: Women are at higher risk of UTIs than men. Most women may also experience it more than one time.
- Urinary Tract Abnormalities: Some babies are born with some urinary tract abnormalities that affect the proper functioning and increase the chances of UTIs.
- Immune System: People who have a suppressed immune system due to conditions like diabetes are more prone to UTIs.
- Blockage in Urinary Tract: Kidney stones or enlarged prostate may also be potential reasons for urinary tract infection.
- Catheter: Those who are hospitalized or have disorders like paralysis use catheter (tube) for urination have higher chances of developing UTI.
- Prior Urinary Procedure: Urinary surgery or exam of urinary tract increases your risk of UTIs.
What are the Causes of UTI?
The cause of urinary tract infections come from various types of bacteria or viruses that enter the urinary tract through urethra. Once inside the body, these microbes multiply and the symptoms start to appear. Usually, our body has natural defences against these microbes but they may fail sometimes and the microbes lead to infection in the urinary tract.
How Are Urinary Tract Infections Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of urinary tract infections is done by the following tests and procedures:
- Urine Sample Testing: A urine sample is taken to analyze and look for WBCs, RBCs, or bacteria. It is often suggested to wipe the genital region first so that possible contamination of the urine sample can be prevented.
- Urine Culture: In this urinary tract infections test, the UTI bacteria will be grown in the lab. It helps in knowing the underlying cause, and selecting the medicines which will be most effective in killing the bacteria.
- Imaging tests: Various imaging tests like computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), etc. are done to know if any abnormality is causing your symptoms.
- Cystoscopy: A cystoscope is tube, with an attached lens, that is inserted in the urethra. If you get infected frequently, your doctor may use a cystoscope to see what is inside your urethra and bladder that is causing the infection.
How Are Urinary Tract Infections Treated?
Depending on the cause for the infection (Bacteria, Viruses), the physician prescribes specific medications targeted at the actual cause for the infection and alleviate the symptoms. The form of used to treat a bacterial UTI usually depends on which part of the tract is involved.
1) Lower tract UTIs can usually be treated with oral antibiotics.
2) Upper tract UTIs require intravenous antibiotics. These antibiotics are put directly into your veins.
Sometimes, bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, so to reduce your risk of antibiotic resistance, your doctor will likely put you on the shortest treatment course possible. Treatment typically lasts no more than 1 week. Results from your urine culture can help your doctor select an antibiotic treatment that will work best against the type of bacteria that’s causing your infection.
What are the complications of a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
UTI symptoms can be painful and uncomfortable in themselves. It can also affect the different areas in the urinary tract and can severely hinder daily life functioning owing to the symptoms. Most often than not, they can be treated with antibiotics and require a short course. However, if it is undiagnosed or untreated, it can cause severe issues like kidney infections. While renal failure can be a big concern in people with untreated UTIs, other complications could be sepsis, multiple organ system dysfunctions, perinephric abscess, papillary necrosis, etc.
How Can Urinary Tract Infections be Prevented?
Urinary tract infections prevention can be done by following the below mentioned measures:
- Drink ample amounts of liquid. Liquids, especially water, dilute the urine. They also make a person urinate frequently, which helps in flushing the infection causing bacteria out of your urinary tract.
- After passing stools or urinating, wipe it from front to back. This helps in preventing the movement of bacteria of anal area to other regions.
- Empty the Bladder after Sexual Intercourse.
- Avoid using products like deodorant sprays, powders, douches on your intimate parts that may cause irritation.
- Choose your birth control method carefully. Some methods can facilitate bacterial growth.
What’s the difference between a urinary tract infection (UTI) and a bladder infection (cystitis)?
A UTI is a type of general infection. It is an umbrella term that is used for any kind of infection that occurs throughout the urinary tract. A bladder infection or cystitis is specific to the bladder. The bacteria enters and makes its way into the bladder to cause an inflammation that results in this type of infection. Not all UTIs necessarily become bladder infections. It would be vital to catching the UTI symptoms early on to prevent them from reaching the bladder. This is stressed as the infection, once spreads, can quickly escalate and reach the kidneys as well. This can be an even more complicated infection and form of UTI.
A UTI is not generally cause for alarm. But if you think you have one, seek medical treatment. It’s possible for it to escalate and cause a kidney infection that affects your entire body. If you suspect you have a UTI, it’s probably because you’re having uncomfortable symptoms. Proper treatment of the infection should resolve most of your discomfort within 48 hours. Wearing loose-fitting, cotton underwear and washing frequently can help keep the infection from coming back. Pain in the low back or side below your ribs and feeling shaky and weak are symptoms you should not ignore. If you notice these symptoms, contact your doctor.
1. Why do we get UTIs?
Most UTIs are single events that, if treated, will not come back. Some patients have anatomical and genetic predispositions that tend to make getting UTIs more likely.
2. When should we be worried?
If you are being treated for a UTI and are not getting better, or you have symptoms of a UTI along with upset stomach and throwing up, or fever and chills, then you should call your healthcare provider. If you ever see blood in your urine, you should call your healthcare provider right away.
3. Will a UTI cause damage to the kidneys?
If the UTI is treated early, then there will likely be no lasting effect on your urinary tract. UTIs can cause harm if not found and treated quickly.
4. How common are urinary tract infections (UTIs)?
Urinary tract infections are very common. They are prevalent in almost 1 out of 5 women, at least once in their lifetime. They can also happen to older adults, men, and children, and are not just limited to women. Statistics show that 1-2% of children also develop these infections. Approximately, 8 to 10 million doctor visits happen due to UTIs.
5. Can I become immune to the antibiotics used to treat a UTI?
Yes, your body can get used to the antibiotics that are used to treat UTIs. This can happen primarily to people who experience frequent infections. Every time the infection reappears, it is likely that the antibiotics used to treat them won’t be as significantly helpful. The infection adapts within the body and becomes harder to fight. This can be deemed as an antibiotic-resistant infection. The doctors may then have to opt for an alternate route to treat these infections.
6. Does cranberry juice prevent a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
There is no definitive evidence on UTI treatment that can prove with certainty that cranberry juice would be effective in treating UTIs. However, it is important to drink a lot of fluids in case there is a history of getting a UTI. Unsweetened cranberry juice may not be a proven treatment or preventative factor, but may not cause any harm either.
This website's content is provided only for educational reasons and is not meant to be a replacement for professional medical advice. Due to individual differences, the reader should contact their physician to decide whether the material is applicable to their case.