The urinary tract is your body’s filtering system for removing liquid waste, or urine. The urinary tract anatomy is comprised of the kidneys, ureters (tubes that carry filtered urine from the kidneys to the bladder, and urethra (tube that carries the urine from the bladder for excretion.
A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when this tract is exposed to bacteria.
Women are more likely than men to get UTIs because of their unique anatomy, particularly their short urethra and exposure to bacteria. Men have a longer urethra, so it is more difficult for bacteria to enter the urinary tract. Nearly half of all women will have a urinary tract infection at some point in their lives. About 20 percent of these women will have repeat infections.
The urinary tract is divided into the upper and lower tract. Most infections occur in the lower urinary tract and can also be called bladder infections. Infections in the lower tract (involving the bladder and urethra) are more common because bacteria can easily enter this area.
Infections in the upper urinary tract (involving the kidneys and ureters) can also be called kidney infections and cause serious illness requiring a longer and more aggressive course of antibiotics.
Symptoms of a lower urinary tract infection or bladder infection may include:
- Back pain
- Urinary frequency
- Burning with urinating
- Frequent need to urinate
- Pressure in the lower abdomen
- Blood in urine
Symptoms of an upper urinary tract infection or a kidney infection also known as pyelonephritis may include:
- Back pain around upper sides or waist
- Fever or chills
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Causes of UTIs
Bacteria that are already present on the skin around the anus/rectum and vagina usually cause UTIs In women. These bacteria are able to travel through the urinary system and cause infections. Men however are less likely to have a UTI. UTIs in men may indicate an abnormal tract or enlarged prostate .
The most common causes of urinary tract infections are:
Sexual intercourse – Penis movement during sex can allow bacteria to be moved into the urethra. In fact, UTIs are more common in women who have frequent intercourse or multiple sexual partners.
Waiting too long to urinate — The bladder is basically a muscle that is able to expand or shrink. A stretched bladder (full of urine) can weaken the muscles of the bladder, reducing the bladder’s ability to shrink completely with time and weaken the muscle. This increase the risk of a urinary tract infection.
Other causes include:
- Kidney stones that may physically block the free flow of urine
- Cystocele [SIS-toh-seel]—relaxing of the bladder and vaginal area, which causes pools of urine to remain in the bladder
- Diverticula [die-ver-TICK-you-la]—infections that develop on the inside wall of the urethra, allowing urine to collect
- Urethral stenosis [steh-NO-sis]—a narrowing of the urethra, preventing an easy flow of urine out of the body — this can be present at birth or result from a number of conditions or activities
Certain conditions may put you at risk for urinary tract infections, including
- Urinary tract infections in childhood
Testing for UTIs
Several methods may be used to tell whether you have a UTI.
- A urine sample may be used to evaluate the number of bacteria and white blood cells present.
- A pelvic exam may be needed to rule out a pelvic problem.
X-rays or ultrasounds may be used if infection returns often or does not respond to treatment.
Urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics. Your doctor may recommend testing your urine after the treatment is finished to be sure the infection has completely cleared up. Some patients feel better within 24 hours of being on antibiotic, but the full course should be used to remove the bacteria.
If you have had several bladder infections, or even one kidney infection, your doctor may refer you to a urologist, a doctor who specializes in treating problems of the urinary tract.
You can help prevent urinary tract infections by practicing the following health habits:
- Practice good personal hygiene. Always wipe from front to back. Douching is not advised.
- Stay hydrated, drink plenty of fluids (at least three to four glasses of water each day) to help flush bacteria out of the urinary tract.
- Empty your bladder completely as soon as you feel the urge, or at least every three hours.
- Get plenty of vitamin C. It makes urine acidic and helps keep bacteria down. Vitamin C is found in orange juice, citrus fruits, and broccoli.
- Wear cotton underwear. Bacteria grows better in moist places. Cotton does not trap moisture.
- If you contract an infection, see your doctor and follow the prescribed treatment.
- Several additional measures are helpful for women:
- Change sanitary pads and tampons frequently during menstruation.
- After intercourse, urinate as soon as possible. This will help flush out any bacteria that may have gone into the urinary tract.
If you have any symptoms of a urinary tract infection, see a doctor as soon as possible. With proper treatment, the infection can be cleared up before it causes serious problems.
At Life Savers Emergency Room, our physicians and staff are able to diagnose and treat urinary ailments. We have 24 hour laboratory, CT and X-ray Imaging services to care for you. Stay Well!