Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a very common bacterial infection that can affect any part of the urinary system, including the bladder, kidneys, or urethra. Patients can experience lower or upper infections.

Lower UTIs affect the bladder and urethra, while upper UTIs involve the ureters and kidneys. Upper UTIs have the potential to be more serious due to the increased risk of damage to the kidneys. Very rarely are the ureters the main site of an infection. Additionally, UTIs can have different names depending on what part of the urinary system they affect.

Names of UTIs include:

  • Urethra infection – Urethritis
  • Bladder infection – Cystitis
  • Kidney infection – Pyelonephritis

Urinary infections occur more often in women than men, and infection risk increases with age. UTIs can be a one-time event or recurrent throughout a patient’s lifetime. Women who use spermicides or tampons are at a greater risk of infection, as are people with diabetes and those who have frequent and intense intercourse with multiple sexual partners.

What are the Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection?

Everyone will experience different symptoms with a UTI, as they vary depending on gender, age, and whether the person is using a catheter.

The more common complaints from patients include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Painful urination
  • Blood in urine
  • Increased urge to go
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Back pain
  • Fever
  • Bladder pain
  • Cloudy or dark urine
  • Foul smell to urine
  • General discomfort
  • Cramping
  • Vaginal irritation in women

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) Causes

UTIs are caused when bacteria enters the urinary tract and causes an infection in the bladder. Often, the bacteria responsible is from fecal matter, but other bacteria might also enter the urinary tract from foreign bodies, such as catheters.

There are certain factors which might make an individual more susceptible to UTIs. For example, women are more likely to experience UTIs than men, firstly because the urethra is shorter, which means bacteria can more easily travel into the bladder, and secondly because the opening of the urethra is closer to the rectum, which makes it more likely for bacteria from fecal matter to reach the urethra. Plus, certain forms of birth control, particularly spermicides and diaphragms, can increase the risk of UTI in women.

Certain medical conditions can also increase the risk of UTIs. Individuals with nerve damage or spinal cord injuries might have trouble fully emptying the bladder, which means there’s an increased chance of bacteria remaining in the bladder rather than being flushed out during urination. Similarly, some conditions can cause the flow of urine to be blocked or obstructed, such as an enlarged prostate in men or a kidney stone.

How is a Urinary Tract Infection Treated?

Urinary tract infections are most often treated with antimicrobials or antibiotics. Several different brands exist to kill the bacteria that cause the condition. Other cases may require the use of penicillin or amoxicillin. Dosage and length of treatment is dependent on severity of symptoms and whether the patient has a history of recurrent UTI.

Most infections will clear up within a few days, while some may take a couple of weeks. Severe infections where the patient has become seriously ill may require hospitalization.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) Prevention

There are a few ways to reduce the risk of developing a UTI. Firstly, it’s important to drink lots of fluids in order that you urinate regularly, as this can help to flush out any bacteria in the bladder before it causes an infection. Secondly, don’t put off urinating when you feel the urge to go as this could increase the risk of a UTI.

Urinating after sex might help to flush out any bacteria which have entered the urethra during intercourse. Women who are susceptible to UTIs may also wish to discuss their contraceptive options with a doctor in order to avoid using spermicides or diaphragms which could increase the risk UTIs.

Finally, both men and women should wipe front to back after using the bathroom. This can help to reduce the risk of bacteria from the rectum reaching the urethra.