Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) is characterized by the presence of microbes in the urine or tissues of normally sterile genitourinary tract. It may be localized to the bladder alone, kidneys or in men, the prostrate. UTI is common in women. Infections involving the upper tract are less common, but much more serious.
UTIs are often as a result of bacteria from the patient’s own gut flora. Due to the small amount of microbes needed to create infection, it’s not surprising that UTIs are one of the most common infections in humans.
Causes of Urinary Tract Infections
The underlying cause of UTI is bacteria or microbes that enter your urethra and cause infection, but there are things that increase the risk of this happening. Irritants also commonly cause infections. Some common risk factors include:
- Previous history of UTIs
- Kidney stones
- Prolonged immobility or bed rest
- Weakened immune systems
- The use of catheters over long periods of time
- Enlarged prostate
- Certain types of cancer
Signs and symptoms of UTI
The most common symptoms of a lower urinary tract infection include:
- A burning sensation during urination
- Feeling a frequent or intense need to urinate, without expelling much urine
- Cloudy or dark urine
- Urine producing a strong odor
- Bloody urine
- Persistent fatigue
- Pressure in your lower abdomen
In men, symptoms can include rectal pain and in women, symptoms can include pelvic pain.
If you are experiencing an upper tract infection, the symptoms are more flu-like. This is a sign that the infection has reached your kidneys and you should seek treatment immediately. These symptoms include:
- Pain or tenderness in the upper back and sides, where your kidneys are located
Urinary Tract Infections in women
UTIs are much more common in women. In fact, women experience UTIs eight times more often than men. This is because anatomically, women have a much shorter urethra than men and it’s in close proximity to the vagina and anus. This is one of the many reasons women are taught to wipe from front to back for proper bathroom hygiene. Due to the close proximity of the urethra and anus, bacteria are able to travel with ease. If bacteria do enter the urethra, they quickly arrive in the bladder and symptoms of a UTI present themselves in a matter of time. Since UTIs can be recurrent, it’s important to practice good hygiene, consider some lifestyle changes, and seek treatment whenever you experience signs or symptoms of a UTI.
It should also be noted that women are more susceptible to developing a UTI after having sex. UTIs are not considered a sexually transmitted disease in any way, but the physical act of having sex moves bacteria around. The urethra is located right next to a woman’s vagina so during sex, bacteria is easily transported from the vagina, and penis, into the urethra.
Using the bathroom immediately after sex allows your body to rid bacteria that has entered the urethra and reduces the risks of developing an infection.
Some other things that contribute to an increase in UTIs in women include the use of non-lubricated condoms, diaphragms, or spermicidal lube. After a woman passes through menopause, the decrease in estrogen changes the pH of her vagina, which in turn changes the bacteria and increases UTI risks.
Diagnosis of Urinary Tract Infection
If you notice any signs or symptoms of a UTI, contact your physician. The only way to diagnose a UTI is through a urine test. By urine test, your physician gets to perform a urine culture and see if there are any microbes present. This culture is important for identifying the underlying cause and move forward with the most effective treatment plan.
Prevention of UTI
One of the best ways to ensure that you don’t have to deal with a UTI is to stay hydrated. Drinking enough water allows your urethra to flush itself out consistently throughout the day, dislodging and expelling bacteria along the way. If you do need to use the bathroom, don’t hold it. Holding your urine for too long contributes to the development of a UTI. Some other preventative measures include:
- Emptying your bladder when you need to
- Emptying your bladder completely
- Wiping front to back
- Opting for showers, not baths
- Cleaning your genitals before sex
- Keeping your genital area dry
- Avoiding tight fitting clothing
- Using the bathroom immediately after sex
Women should make sure that their birth control method isn’t causing physical irritation.
Prognosis of Urinary Tract Infections
UTIs, when left untreated, may develop into more severe conditions. The infection may spread into your blood, causing your body to go into sepsis, which is life-threatening. This is why it’s so important to contact your healthcare provider and get a urine culture as soon as you notice any signs or symptoms. UTIs are easy to treat and are harmless when managed early.