A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs in any part of your urinary system such as kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Most infections involve the lower urinary tract – (bladder and the urethra).
Women are at greater risk of developing a UTI than are men. Severe health consequences can occur if a UTI is left untreated and spreads to your kidneys.
Doctors treat urinary tract infections with antibiotics. However, steps can be taken to reduce your chances of getting a UTI.
There are often no visible signs and symptoms associated with urinary tract infections, but they may be symptoms like:
- Burning sensation when passing out urine
- Strong, persistent and urgent need to urinate
- Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
- Cloudy urine
- Urine that appears red, bright pink or cola-colored — a sign of blood in the urine
- Smelly urine
- Pelvic pain, in women which occurs at the center of the pelvis and around the area of the pubic bone
Types of Urinary Tract Infection
Each type of UTI may result in more-specific signs and symptoms, depending on which part of your urinary tract is infected. Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and starts to multiply in the bladder. Though the urinary system is designed to keep out such infections, these defenses may fail sometimes. When that happens, bacteria may take hold and grow into a full-blown infection in the urinary tract.
The most common UTIs occur mainly in women and affect the bladder and urethra.
- Infection of the bladder (cystitis).This type of UTI is frequently caused by a type of bacteria commonly found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract called Escherichia coli (E. coli).
- Infection of the urethra (urethritis).This type of UTI 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 gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia and mycoplasma, can cause urethritis.
Risk factors of UTI
Urinary tract infections are common in women, and many women experience more than one infection during their lifetimes. Risk factors specific to women for UTIs include:
- Female anatomy:A woman has a shorter urethra than a man does, which shortens the distance that bacteria must travel to reach the bladder.
- Sexual activity:Sexually active women tend to have more UTIs than do women who aren’t sexually active. Having a new sexual partner also increases your risk.
- Birth control:Certain type of birth control may cause UTI. Women who use diaphragms for birth control and spermicidal agents may be at higher risk
- Menopause:After menopause, a decline in circulating estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract that make you more exposed to infection.
Other risk factors for UTIs include:
- 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.
When detected early and treated properly, lower urinary tract infections rarely lead to complications. But if UTI is left untreated, the consequences may be severe.
Complications of a UTI may include:
- Recurrent infections, especially in women who experience two or more UTIs in a six-month period or four or more within a year.
- Permanent kidney damage from an acute or chronic kidney infection (pyelonephritis) due to an untreated UTI.
- Increased risk in pregnant women of delivering low birth weight or premature infants.
- Urethral narrowing (stricture) in men from recurrent urethritis, previously seen with gonococcal urethritis.
- Sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection, especially if the infection works its way up your urinary tract to your kidneys.
Prevention of UTI
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.
- Change birth control method.Diaphragms, or unlubricated or spermicide-treated condoms, can all contribute to bacterial growth.
- 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 irritating feminine products.Using deodorant sprays or other feminine products, such as douches and powders, in the genital area can irritate the urethra.