Urinary Tract Infection: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment
Most infections of a UTI involve the lower urinary tract - the bladder and the urethra. Women are at greater risk of developing urinary tract infections because of a shorter urethra. However, men also contract it. When it involves the bladder and urethra, it is often painful and irritating. If the infections are left untreated, they may spread upward to your kidneys and this can have serious consequences.
What are the symptoms of lower urinary tract infection?
Urinary tract infections may sometimes be silent - meaning, you won't notice any symptoms. Often, the symptoms start with a strong need to go to the bathroom that does not seem to stop. While passing urine, the urethra and surrounding areas have a burning sensation and the urine is less in quantity though more frequent.
Other symptoms may include:
- Cloudy composition of urine
- Red, Pink, or Brownish urine with blood
- Strong smelling urine
- Pain around the pubic area (especially in women)
What are the types of urinary tract infections?
- Acute pyelonephritis - infection of the kidneys usually characterized by back or side pain, high degree fever with chills and vomiting, or a constant feeling of wanting to vomit.
- Cystitis - infection of the bladder usually characterized by a feeling of pressure in the pelvis, discomfort in the lower part of the stomach, and frequent urination that may be accompanied by pain. There may also be blood in the urine.
- Urethritis - infection of the urethra or the final part of your urinary tract. This is usually characterized by a burning sensation while [passing urine and sometimes, the presence of discharge in urine.
If you have signs or symptoms that are like a UTI, do not try to correct this at home. It is important to visit a doctor who can provide you with the right treatment. Treating with the wrong antibiotics can cause infections that are harder to cure later. And not treating the condition presents the risk of it spreading to the kidneys and becoming far more serious.
What causes urinary tract infection?
Your urinary system usually has multiple defenses in place to ensure that bacteria can not enter and infect your urinary tract. However, when some bacteria do manage to evade these, they start multiplying inside the urinary bladder and cause a urinary tract infection.
The bacteria that are usually responsible for UTIs spread from the gastrointestinal tract because of their proximity to the anus. However, this may not always be the case. This is why, it is especially important to wipe from front to back while using the bathroom, especially for women.
Some people are more predisposed to developing urinary tract infections. This is because of:
- Structure of the urinary tract - Women have a higher chance due to the shorter length of the urethra. People born with abnormalities are also at higher risk.
- Sexual hygiene - Lack of hygiene from you or your partner can cause increased chances of developing UTIs, especially in women.
- Birth control devices like a diaphragm or spermicidal agents
- Women who have reached or crossed menopause. Due to declining levels of estrogen, the urinary tract undergoes changes that make it more likely to be infected.
- Blockage - Kidney stones, or prostate enlargement can cause urine to not empty fully increasing the risk of UTIs.
- Use of catheters or medical treatments, especially over long periods.
- Reduced immunity or immunosuppression
How is urinary tract infection diagnosed?
If you feel you have any symptoms that may point to a urinary tract infection, it is best to visit a doctor and get his recommendations immediately. The infection can get worse if left untreated.
Your doctor may ask for a few tests to confirm the diagnosis like:
- Urinalysis - looking for RBCs, WBCs and bacteria in urine
- Urine culture - to try to identify the type of bacteria causing your problem. This helps to determine the right kind of treatment.
In addition, based on your symptoms, your doctor may ask for additional tests to rule out other problems such as:
- Cystoscopy - using a special instrument to see inside the urethra
- CT scan
How is urinary tract infection treated?
Based on the results from the tests, your doctor may recommend a course of treatment. Usually, this includes an antibiotic. While not everyone tolerates antibiotics as easily, it is important to note that they are given to you to prevent much more discomfort from the infection. It is also important to note that not taking the prescribed dose of medicine in the right dose at the right time or stopping it mid-way can actually make your situation get worse. You may also contribute to the development of bacteria that becomes more resistant to antibiotics.
If you are someone with frequent UTIs, your doctor may give you medicines to start at the onset of symptoms. Please be sure to follow the advice of your doctor and if you develop any problems or discomfort, speak to your doctor first, before changing anything.
If you are a post-menopausal woman, your doctor may prescribe vaginal creams that have some estrogen. This may help in reducing frequent UTIs.
How do you prevent urinary tract infections?
- Empty bladder whenever you feel the need to go
- Wipe from front to back with a towel always
- Consume lots of fluids and water
- Showers are safer than baths
- Do not use any products like hygiene sprays that can increase irritation
- Practice sexual hygiene, including using the bathroom immediately after to clear out any bacteria
- Switching to a different method of contraception
- Using water-based lubricants
- General hygiene and using loose clothing