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Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

The urinary tract is composed of four parts — the kidneys, the ureters (tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder), the bladder, and the urethra (the tube through which the bladder empties). A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that occurs in one of these four parts, most often beginning in the urethra and moving up the urinary tract to the kidneys.

A UTI occurs when microorganisms, usually bacteria from the digestive tract, cling to the opening of the urethra and begin to multiply. In most cases, bacteria first begin growing in the urethra and often move on to the bladder, causing a bladder infection (cystitis). If the infection is not treated promptly, bacteria may then go up the ureters to infect the kidneys (pyelonephritis).

Risk factors for UTI

Some people are more likely to get a UTI than others. Women may have more urinary infections than men  because the woman’s urethra is relatively short, near sources of bacteria from the vagina and anus allowing quicker access to the bladder. One in five women develops a UTI during her lifetime. For many women, sexual intercourse seems to trigger an infection, although the reasons for this are unclear.

In women, the rate of UTIs gradually increases with age. Nearly 20% of women who have a UTI will have another. An additional third of these women will go on to have multiple recurrences. Any disorder that weakens the immune system (for example - diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, cancer, etc.) raises the risk of a urinary infection. Therefore, people with diabetes have a higher risk of a UTI because of changes in the immune system.

Common UTI Symptoms

While some urinary tract infections are without symptoms, most people have some physical signs or discomforts.

Common Symptoms include:
  • a frequent urge to urinate
  • a painful, burning sensation while passing urine
  • a general sick feeling - tired, shaky, or washed-out
  • a feeling of discomfort in the pelvic region
  • an uncomfortable pressure above the pubic bone (suprapubic area)
  • a strong urge to urinate, but passing only a small amount of urine
  • the urine may look milky or cloudy, or reddish if blood is present
  • a fever may be present, usually, this means the infection has moved up into the kidneys.
Prevention and Treatment

There are steps that you can take to help prevent UTIs.

  • You should drink plenty of water every day.
  • Some health care providers suggest drinking cranberry juice, which in large amounts inhibits the growth of some bacteria by adding acid to the urine. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supplements have the same effect.
  • Urinate when you feel the need; don’t resist the urge to urinate.
  • Wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria in the anal area from entering the vagina or urethra.
  • Cleanse the genital area before sexual intercourse.
  • Always empty your bladder before and after sexual activity.
  • Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays, scented douches, perfumed bath products, or scented toilet tissue or sanitary products. All of these products may irritate the urethra or the sensitive skin around it.

If you think that an infection has occurred, contact your clinician, who will test a urine sample for pus and bacteria. UTIs are easily treated with antibiotics.

UTIs during Pregnancy

Pregnant women seem no more likely to get a UTI than other women. However, when a UTI does occur during pregnancy, it is more likely to travel to the kidneys. About 2-4 percent of pregnant women develops a UTI.

Hormonal changes and shifts in the position of the urinary tract during pregnancy may make it easier for bacteria to travel up the ureters to the kidneys. For this reason, many urinary tract infection doctors recommend periodic testing of urine. A pregnant woman who develops a UTI should be treated promptly to avoid preterm labor and other UTI-related risks such as high blood pressure.

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