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Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTI) are usually triggered by microbes which managed to pass through body defense system and enter into urinary tract. Pathogenic microbes can affect whole urinary tract including kidneys, ureters (tube connection between kidney and bladder), bladder and urethra. Female urethra is much shorter compared with male. Normal urinary tract function is crucial for body survival – it is responsible for removing waste (toxins) and excess water from body. Kidneys are responsible for blood filtration and body water transformation into urine which is sent through ureters to bladder. Usually urine is stored in bladder until it becomes full. During urination the urine comes out through urethra.

Urinary tract infections are very common. According to health experts, women get urinary tract infections more often because of shorter urethra which makes it easier for microbes to pass through and invade bladder. About 50% women usually experience UTI at some point of life and about 20-30% experience recurrent urinary tract infection.

Urinary tract infections usually cause disturbing symptoms including frequent urination with burning sensation, back pain and could trigger dangerous complications such as kidney failure or blood poisoning.

Urinary tract infections – types

Urinary tract infections

Depending on UTI location, urinary tract infection types can be different:

  • Cystitis – bladder infection, bladder inflammation;
  • Urethritis – urethra infection, inflammation of the urethra;
  • Nephritis – infected kidneys and kidney inflammation;
  • Acute pyelonephritis – sudden and severe kidney infection which causes kidneys swelling and could be responsible for permanent (not reversible) kidney damages (can be life-threatening);
  • Ureteritis – inflammation of ureters (rare condition).

Most types of UTI are not dangerous and can be treated but some could lead to serious problems. At the same time, recurrent urinary tract infections could cause permanent damage and life-threatening situations. During pregnancy UTI can trigger premature delivery with baby low birth weight.

Urinary tract infections – causes

Most common bacteria which is responsible for UTI is Escherichia coli (E. coli) – this bacteria can be found in gastroenteral system. Urethra sometimes can be infected by Chlamydia and mycoplasma.

In general, bacteria can enter the urinary tract during several conditions and activities:

  • Sexual activities – during intercourse bacteria could be transferred from vagina or anus into the urethra;
  • Diabetes (especially not treated properly) – usually excess blood sugar is removed from body through the urine and “sweet urine” is the favorable environment for bacteria growth and multiplication;
  • Chronic constipation – during on-going constipation it is becoming difficult to empty the bladder and urine stays longer in bladder and trapped bacteria have longer time for growth and multiplication;
  • Chronic diarrhea – during diarrhea bacteria from loose stool can easily spread into vagina and/or urethra;
  • Contraceptives (birth control pills, diaphragm, spermicides) – birth control pills change hormonal balance which could trigger vaginal bacterial dis-balance; local vaginal contraceptive methods can change bacteria growth in vagina and increased numbers of bacteria can be spread to urinary system;
  • Delayed urination – long stay in urine let bacteria to overgrow and urine holding during 6 and more hours could trigger UTI;
  • Kidney stones – they can block urinary tract and back up urine, giving bacteria enough time for growth and multiplication;
  • Concentrated urine during dehydration – concentration of bacteria is much higher in concentrated urine which can cause UTI;
  • Dirty menstrual products – dirty menstrual pads and tampons are most favorable environment for bacteria growth and multiplication.

Urinary tract infections – symptoms

UTI symptoms could be different depending on age, type of UTI, gender, type of microbes and general health conditions. UTI common symptoms include the following:

  • Frequent urination combined with pain and burning sensation,
  • Cloudy dark urine with specific strong smell,
  • Pain or pressure in lower back or lower abdomen,
  • Nausea and unexpected vomiting,
  • Fever or chills.

Urinary tract infections – risk factors

  • Frequent sexual intercourse without contraception and with multiple partners,
  • Diabetes (especially not treated),
  • Poor personal hygiene (especially during menstrual periods),
  • Urinary catheter (enforced by doctors),
  • Bowel incontinence (constipation or diarrhea),
  • Kidney stones,
  • Period of “hormonal storms” – pregnancy or menopause,
  • Suppressed immune system,
  • Enforced immobility,
  • Vaginal contraception,
  • Intensive or frequent use of antibiotics.

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