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UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. They are a serious, but common, health problem that affects millions of people each year. With the reason remaining unclear, women are especially prone to urinary tract infections.

Most UTIs affect the lower urinary tract (bladder and urethra). Types of UTIs include the following:

  • Urethritis: An infection of the urethra, the hollow tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
  • Cystitis: A bacterial infection in the bladder that often has moved up from the urethra.
  • Pyelonephritis: An infection of the kidneys that is usually a result of an infection that has spread up the tract, or from an obstruction in the urinary tract. An obstruction in the urinary tract causes urine to back flow into the ureters and kidneys.

What causes a UTI?

Normal urine is sterile and contains fluids, salts, and waste products. It is free of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. An infection occurs when microorganisms, usually bacteria from the digestive tract, cling to the opening of the urethra, the hollow tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body, and begin to multiply. Most infections arise from Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, which normally live in the colon.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

The following are the most common symptoms of a UTI. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Frequent urination
  • A painful, burning feeling during urination
  • Fever
  • Urine appears cloudy or reddish in color (blood may be present in the urine)
  • Feeling pain even when not urinating
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the back or side, below the ribs
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Despite an intense urge to urinate, only a small amount of urine is passed
  • Women may feel an uncomfortable pressure above the pubic bone

How is a UTI diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic tests and procedures may include the following:

  • Urinalysis: Laboratory examination of urine for various cells and chemicals, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, infection, or excessive protein.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP): A series of X-rays of the kidney, ureter, and bladder with the injection of a contrast dye into the vein – to detect tumors, abnormalities, kidney stones, or any obstructions, and to assess renal blood flow.
  • Cystoscopy (Also called cystourethroscopy): An examination in which a scope, a flexible tube and viewing device, is inserted through the urethra to examine the bladder and urinary tract for structural abnormalities or obstructions, such as tumors or stones.
  • Renal ultrasound: A non-invasive test in which a transducer is passed over the kidney producing sound waves which bounce off of the kidney, transmitting a picture of the organ on a video screen. The test is used to determine the size and shape of the kidney, and to detect a mass, kidney stone, cyst, or other obstruction or abnormalities.

How is a UTI treated?

Treatment may include antibacterial and other medications, heating pad to relieve pain, and behavior modifications such as drinking more water to help cleanse the urinary tract of bacteria, avoiding coffee, alcohol, and spicy foods, and quitting smoking.

To reduce the likelihood of developing another UTI, a patient may also consider the following:

  • Drink plenty of water every day.
  • Drink cranberry juice. Large amounts of vitamin C inhibit the growth of some bacteria by acidifying the urine. Vitamin C supplements have the same effect.
  • Urinate when you feel the need and do not 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/after sexual intercourse.
  • Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays and scented douches.