What is a urinary tract infection?
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are extremely common, especially in women.
About one in two women and one in 20 men are likely to get a UTI in their lifetime. Caused by bacteria in the urinary system, most cases affect the lower urinary tract (the bladder and urethra).
However, infections of the kidney are more serious.
Your urinary system is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. In the kidneys, waste is removed from the blood to make urine, which enters the bladder through narrow tubes called ureters. The urine is stored in your bladder and emptied through the urethra when you urinate.
UTIs are caused when bacteria enter the urinary system and causes infection of the urethra (urethritis), bladder (cystitis) or kidneys (pyelonephritis). Most commonly, the bacterium is Escherichia coli (E. coli) from the digestive tract, usually spread to the urethra from the anus.
Causes of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
UTIs are more common in women, in part because of the shorter length of their urethra, which makes it easier for germs to travel into the bladder. However, sexually transmitted micro-organisms such as mycoplasma and chlamydia can cause urethritis in both men and women.
Other groups at a higher risk of UTIs are:
- Older people, particularly where there are chronic conditions or urinary incontinence
- People with urinary catheters - the longer the catheter is in place, the higher the risk
- People with diabetes, due to changes in the immune system
- Men with prostate problems
Babies and children are also at risk from UTIs. Their symptoms should be investigated promptly, as there may be a more serious underlying condition such as urinary reflux.
Symptoms of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Symptoms of UTIs may include:
- A constant urge to urinate, if only to pass a few drops
- A burning or scalding sensation when urinating
- Blood in the urine; cloudy or very smelly urine
- Feeling that the bladder is full even after urinating
- Pain above the pelvic bone
Kidney infections are more serious than infections of the lower urinary tract. Additional symptoms may include:
- Lower abdominal pain
- Back pain
Treatment of urinary tract infection (UTIs)
If a UTI is suspected, you should seek prompt medical advice. If left untreated the infection can go deeper into the urinary system and reach the kidneys.
Where infections are recurrent, the doctor may order a test to see which germs are present in the urine and prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection. Regular attacks should be investigated, in case they are caused by an underlying disorder such as kidney stones.
In cases of mild infection, drink plenty of water and taking a commercial urinary alkaliniser ( or 1 teaspoon of baking soda in water) may offer relief.
Simple preventative measures such as practicing good hygiene, quickly treating vaginal infections such as thrush, emptying your bladder after sex and wiping front to back (urethra to anus) after going to the toilet have been found helpful by some women in reducing risk.
While cranberry juice has been touted as a natural prevention for UTIs, the research on this is inconclusive.
Further information and sources
This article is of a general nature only. You should always seek medical advice if you think you may have the symptoms of UTI.