Urinary Tract or the urinary system in humans includes the urethra, ureters, bladder, and kidneys. Infection to any of these organs is usually termed as Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Urinary Tract Infection is more common in women compared to men. UTIs are caused by bacteria and are treated with antibiotics. Recurrence of UTI can be seen in many people.
More on Urinary Tract Infection
As said, infection to any of the organs of the urinary system is called Urinary Tract Infection.
- Urethritis – A condition when the urethra is infected.
- Pyelonephritis – A condition when either or both of the kidneys are infected
- Cystitis – When the bladder is infected.
Normal human urine does not contain any bacteria. UTI is an infection caused by bacteria that enters the body from the outside environment. UTI is so common in women that 20% of women have this problem at least once during their lifetime. Older men and male children are more prone to UTIs than younger men. In women, the distance between the end of the urethra (the tube that carries the urine out of the body) is closer to the anus where E. coli bacteria are common. Older adults usually develop infection of the bladder, cystitis.
Causes of Urinary Tract Infection
UTI is caused by bacteria that enter the system through the urethra. The urethra is the first part to get infected followed by the bladder. If not treated on time for any reason, the ureters can carry the infection all the way to the kidneys which can make the condition severe. More than 90% of bladder infections are caused by E. coli bacteria.
- Infection of the bladder (cystitis) is usually caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria. E. coli is typically found in gastrointestinal tract. Sometimes, other bacteria may also be responsible for cystitis. Women are more at risk of developing UTI because of their anatomy. The opening of the urethra is closer to the anus and the length of urethra (from open end to the bladder) is also smaller compared to that of men. This makes the travel time for bacteria very short and bacteria can reach the bladder easily after entering the urethra.
- Urethritis – Infection of urethra can be caused due to the bacteria that creep up from the anus region or may be caused due sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, gonorrhea, Chlamydia etc. This is due to the fact that the distance between the urethra and the vagina is very small and the disease causing microbes don’t take much time to move from the vagina region to the urethra.
Risk factors of UTI
- Anatomy in women – The shorter length of urethra, shorter distance between the urethral opening, vagina and the anus.
- Unprotected sexual activity
- Women who use a diaphragm for birth control or who use spermicidal gels are at higher risk of developing UTI.
- Menopause – The production of reproductive hormones in a woman’s body also help in maintaining the balance between the good and bad bacteria inside the vagina. As the women approaches or attains menopause, the imbalance of estrogen and progesterone disturbs the bacterial balance and when there is an increase in bad bacteria, that can lead to UTI.
- Abnormalities in urinary tract (usually due to congenital defects) can also cause UTI. Usually such people suffer from frequent recurrence of UTI and are often kept on low doses of antibiotics.
- Kidney stones that block the flow of urine increase the risk of contracting UTI.
- Diabetes and other diseases that impair the immune system can also lead to UTI.
- Doctor visits – If your doctor uses a catheter which is not sterilized as per standards that can cause infection of urethra and then the bladder.
- Any surgery in the pelvic area closer to the urinary tract can also cause infection of the urinary organs.
Symptoms of UTI (Urinary Tract Infections)
UTI causes inflammation of the urinary tract that can lead to any of the following symptoms:
- Pain in abdominal region
- Pain or burning sensation during urination (dysuria)
- Blood in urine
- Frequent urination and/or urgency to urinate.
- Foul smelling urine
- Cloudy urine (instead of being clear)
- Pain during sex (in women)
- Pain during ejaculation
- Fever, nausea etc.
Diagnosis of Urinary Tract Infection
Though your urologist knows that UTI is caused by bacteria, confirming which bacteria is important to prescribe the antibiotics.
Test 1 – Urinalysis – Looking for the presence of red and/or white blood cells in urine. The presence of WBC indicates infection of the urinary system.
Test 2 – Urine culture – This is done to determine the type of bacteria present in the urine.
In case of recurrent UTI, further tests may be required by your urologist including:
- Ultrasound – to look at the organs in the pelvis including the urinary system.
- Cystoscopy – A thin tube with light and camera at the end is inserted into the urethra to look inside the bladder.
- CT Scan – The imaging test done to look into the urinary system in detail.
Treatment of UTI
Antibiotics are the most common medication given by your urologist unless he/she finds a different root cause that might be causing the UTI. In people suffering from frequent UTIs, low-dose antibiotics will be prescribed which the patient needs to take on a daily basis.
If the infection is milder, your doctor may just ask you to wait a few days and keep consuming more liquids. Consuming more liquids can help in passing out (removing) large amounts of bacteria in the urine. If the infection is severe and has moved up to the kidneys, you may need to be hospitalized and treated. Medicine will be given intravenously and your doctor will try to save the kidneys from getting damaged.