What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection in any part of your urinary system, which includes your kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra.
If you’re a woman, your chance of getting a urinary tract infection is high. Some experts rank your lifetime risk of getting one as high as 1 in 2, with many women having repeat infections, sometimes for years. About 1 in 10 men will get a UTI in their lifetime. It can occur in any age group.
Symptoms of UTIs
The symptoms of a UTI can include:
- A burning feeling when you urinate
- A frequent or intense urge to urinate, even though little comes out when you do
- Cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange-smelling urinate
- Feeling tired or shaky
- Fever or chills (a sign that the infection may have reached your kidneys)
- Pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen
Types of UTIs
An infection can happen in different parts of your urinary tract. Each type has a different name, based on where it is –
- Cystitis (bladder): You might feel like you need to urinate a lot, or it might hurt when you do. You might also have lower belly pain and cloudy or bloody urine.
- Pyelonephritis (kidneys): This can cause fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and pain in your upper back or side.
- Urethritis (urethra): This can cause a discharge and burning when you urinate.
Causes of UTIs
UTIs are a key reason why doctors tell women to wipe from front to back after using the bathroom. The urethra — the tube that takes urine from the bladder to the outside of the body — is close to the anus. Bacteria from the large intestine, such as E. coli, can sometimes get out of your anus and into your urethra. From there, they can travel up to your bladder and, if the infection isn’t treated, can continue on to infect your kidneys. Women have shorter urethras than men. That makes it easier for bacteria to get to their bladders. Having sex can introduce bacteria into your urinary tract, too and it is the reason for severally active women to have more UTI
Some women are more likely to get UTIs because of their genes. The shape of their urinary tracts makes others more likely to be infected. Women with diabetes may be at higher risk because their weakened immune systems make them less able to fight off infections. Other conditions that can boost your risk include hormone changes, multiple sclerosis, and anything that affects urine flow, such as kidney stones, a stroke, and a spinal cord injury.
UTI Tests and Diagnosis
If you suspect that you have a urinary tract infection, go to the doctor. You’ll give a urine sample to test for UTI-causing bacteria with a complete urine test and culture.
If you get frequent UTIs and your doctor suspects a problem in your urinary tract, they might take a closer look with an ultrasound, a CT scan. They might also use a long, flexible tube called a cystoscope to look inside your urethra and bladder to find out the cause of UTI.
Treatments for UTIs
If your physician thinks you need them, antibiotics are the most common treatment for urinary tract infections. As always, be sure to take all of your prescribed medicine, even after you start to feel better. Drink lots of water to help flush the bacteria from your body. Your doctor may also give you a medication to soothe pain. You might find a heating pad helpful.
Cranberry juice is often promoted to prevent or treat UTIs. The red berry contains tannin that might prevent E. coli bacteria — the most common cause of urinary tract infections — from sticking to the walls of your bladder, where they can cause an infection. Experts are also looking at new ways to treat and prevent UTIs, including vaccines and things that boost your immune system.
If a man gets a UTI, he’s likely to get another. About 1 in 5 women have a second urinary tract infection, and some have them again and again. In most cases, each infection is brought on by a different type or strain of bacteria. But some bacteria can invade your body’s cells and multiply, creating a colony of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They then travel out of the cells and re-invade urinary tract.
Chronic UTI Treatment
If you have three or more UTIs a year, ask your doctor to recommend a treatment plan. Some options include taking:
- A low dose of an antibiotic over a longer period to help prevent repeat infections
- A single dose of an antibiotic after sex, which is a common infection trigger
- Antibiotics for 1 or 2 days every time symptoms appear
- A non-antibiotic prophylaxis treatment
If you’re taking antibiotics for a UTI, you can test to see whether they’ve cured the infection (although you still need to finish your prescription).
How to Prevent UTI Re-Infection
Following some tips can help you avoid getting another UTI:
- Empty your bladder often as soon as you feel the need to pee; don’t rush, and be sure you’ve emptied your bladder completely.
- Wipe from front to back after you use the toilet.
- Drink lots of water.
- Choose showers over baths.
- Stay away from feminine hygiene sprays, scented douches, and scented bath products; they’ll only increase irritation.
- Cleanse your genital area before sex.
- Pee after sex to flush out any bacteria that may have entered your urethra.
- If you use a diaphragm, un-lubricated condoms, or spermicidal jelly for birth control, you may want to switch to another method. Diaphragms can increase bacteria growth, while un-lubricated condoms and spermicides can irritate your urinary tract. All can make UTI symptoms more likely.
- Keep your genital area dry by wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes. Don’t wear tight jeans and nylon underwear; they can trap moisture, creating the perfect environment for bacteria growth.
The article is prepared by Dr. Y Rama Sanjai, MBBS,MS, M.Ch, Senior Consultant Urologist, Aster Prime Hospital, Ameerpet, Hyderabad.