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Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Urinary tract infections are a serious health problem affecting millions of people each year.

The “urinary tract” consists of the various organs of the body that produce, store, and get rid of urine. These include the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder, and the urethra. Any part of the urinary system can become infected, but most infections involve the lower urinary tract – the urethra and the bladder. Women are at greater risk of developing a urinary tract infection. UTI limited to bladder can be painful and annoying. The most serious consequences can occur if a urinary tract infection spreads to the kidneys.

Urinary Tract Infection Causes

In general the urine is sterile. It is usually free of bacteria, viruses, and fungi but does contain fluids, salts, and waste products. An infection occurs when bacteria cling to the opening of the urethra and begin to multiply. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body. Most infections arise from one type of bacteria, Escherichia coli (E. coli), which normally lives in the colon.

In many cases, bacteria first travel to the urethra – when bacteria multiply – the infection can occur. If infection limited to the urethra is called urethritis. If bacteria move to the bladder and multiply (bladder infection) – it called cystitis. If the infection is not treated promptly and properly – bacteria can travel further up the ureters to multiply and infect the kidneys. A kidney infection is called pyelonephritis.

Microorganisms called Chlamydia and Mycoplasma may also cause UTI. Unlike E. coli, Chlamydia and Mycoplasma may be sexually transmitted, and infections require treatment of both partners.

Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms

Urinary tract infection

Urinary tract infection

In general, UTI signs and symptoms develop pretty fast and can include:

  • A strong, persistent urge to urinate
  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria) or cloudy, strong-smelling urine
  • Bacteria in the urine (bacteriuria)

Different parts of the urinary tract system can develop specific symptoms if infection appears: If infection attacks the urethra (urethritis), the most common symptom is burning during urination. If infection enters to the bladder (cystitis), symptoms include pelvic pressure, lower abdomen discomfort and frequent, painful urination. If infection reach the kidneys (acute pyelonephritis), symptoms include upper back and side (flank) pain, high fever, shaking and chills and nausea.

How Urinary Tract Infection starts

In general the urinary tract can be infected from “above/up” (by bacteria entering the kidneys from the bloodstream and travelling downward) or from “below/down” (by bacteria entering the urethra and travelling upward).

In most cases the infection starts from “below-down”. Girls could become prone to UTI’s through wiping back-to-front when they are first toilet-trained, which pulls stool into the vaginal area. Sexually active teenage and adult women are more prone to UTI’s because of friction at the meatus, which tends to push bacteria into the urethra (urinating after intercourse helps avoid UTI’s).

Infection from “above/up” can be observed in newborns – if there are many bacteria in the bloodstream. This is especially likely if the kidney filters are immature, or if there are a lot of bacteria.

Urinary Tract

Urinary Tract

Who is at risk for Urinary Tract Infection?

Some people are more prone to getting a UTI than others. Any abnormality of the urinary tract that obstructs the flow of urine (a kidney stone, for example) sets the stage for an infection.

Many women start suffering from UTI after intercourse. The most common is after first time sex. Sexual intercourse seems to trigger an infection, although the reasons for this linkage are unclear. One factor may be that a woman’s urethra is short, allowing bacteria quick access to the bladder. Also, a woman’s urethral opening is near sources of bacteria from the anus and vagina.

In adult women, though, the rate of UTIs gradually increases with age.

A common source of infection is catheters, or tubes, placed in the urethra and bladder. In most cases catheters and tubes are used in hospitals (medical conditions).

People with diabetes have a higher risk of a UTI because of changes in the immune system.

Any other disorder that suppresses the immune system raises the risk of a urinary infection.

Urinary Tract Infection Treatment

UTI treatment should be done by health providers (preferably by qualified doctors). Antibiotics are the typical treatment for UTI. Often, a UTI can be cured with 1 or 2 days of treatment if the infection is not complicated by an obstruction or other disorder. Still, many doctors ask their patients to take antibiotics for a week or two to ensure that the infection has been cured. Longer treatment is also needed by patients with infections caused by Mycoplasma or Chlamydia.

Urinary Tract Infection Recurrent

Many women suffer from frequent UTIs. Some women have UTI chronically – women who have had UTI about 3-4 times are on the risk to have it more. Four out of five such women get another within 18 months of the last UTI. Many women have them even more often.

Nearly 20 percent of women who have a UTI will have another one and 30 percent of those will have yet another. Of the last group, 80 percent will have recurrences.

How avoid the Urinary Tract Infection

  • Drink plenty of water every day.
  • Urinate when you feel the need; don’t resist the urge to urinate.
  • Wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria around the anus from entering the vagina or urethra.
  • Take showers instead of tub baths.
  • Cleanse the genital area before sexual intercourse.
  • Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays and scented douches, which may irritate the urethra.
  • Drink cranberry juice.

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