Urinary Tract Infection

Overview

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is a bacterial infection of part of the urinary tract. A UTI can affect any area of the urinary tract, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. UTIs are very common in women, with the majority of infections occurring in the bladder and urethra. Although these infections are typically not harmful, if left untreated they can cause serious complications. Fortunately, most UTIs are preventable and can be treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of a UTI depend on the part of the urinary tract affected. Bladder infection (cystitis) can cause cloudy, strong-smelling or bloody urine and pain or burning during urination. It can also cause a frequent or strong urge to urinate, sometimes with a weak stream. A UTI may also result in low fever and stomach pain; men may experience rectal pain. Kidney infections can cause different symptoms, including tiredness, chills, high fever, back pain, nausea, and vomiting. There may also be side (flank) pain with a kidney infection. If a UTI is left untreated, it can result in recurrent infections, kidney damage, and a higher risk of delivering a low weight or premature baby.

UTIs are diagnosed with a urine test, which is used to find white blood cells, red blood cells, and bacteria. The urine may be cultured to determine what type of bacteria is causing the infection. If a patient has frequent infections, imaging tests may be used to look for abnormalities in the urinary tract. A procedure called a cystoscopy may also be done to look inside the urethra and bladder using a camera inserted through the urethra.

Causes

Bacteria cause UTIs after entering the urinary tract and multiplying. Although many types of bacteria can cause an infection, gut bacteria – particularly Escherichia coli (E. coli) – are the primary cause. These bacteria get into the urinary tract through the urethra, usually by traveling from the anus to the urethral opening. Infection of the urethra (urethritis) can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections because the vagina is so close to the urethral opening.

Women are more prone to UTIs because of their anatomy. The distance between the anus and urethra is shorter in women than in men. Women also have a shorter urethra than men, making it easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder. Women are more likely to get UTIs because of other risk factors as well, such as the use of diaphragms and spermicidal agents. UTIs often occur more frequently in women after they go through menopause. Sexually active women and women with urinary tract abnormalities can also have a higher risk of developing a UTI. Blockages in the urinary tract, such as kidney stones or an enlarged prostate in men, and using a catheter can make people more susceptible to a UTI. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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