What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?The urinary tract is comprised of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection caused by pathogenic organisms (for eg. bacteria, fungi, or parasites) in any of the structures that comprise the urinary tract. However, this is the broad definition of urinary tract infections; many authors prefer to use more specific terms that localize the urinary tract infection to the major structural segment involved such as
-urethritis (urethral infection),
-cystitis (bladder infection),
-ureter infection, and
-pyelonephritis (kidney infection).
Other structures that eventually connect to or share close anatomic proximity to the urinary tract (for example, prostate, epididymis, and vagina) are sometimes included in the discussion of UTIs because they may either cause or be caused by UTIs.
UTIs are common, more common in women than men, leading to approximately 8.3 million doctor visits per year. Although some infections go unnoticed, UTIs can cause problems that range from dysuria (pain and/or burning when urinating) to organ damage and even death. The kidneys are the active organs that, during their average production of about 1.5 quarts of urine per day, function to help keep electrolytes and fluids (for example, potassium, sodium, water) in balance, assist removal of waste products (urea), and produce a hormone that aids to form red blood cells. If kidneys are injured or destroyed by infection, these vital functions can be damaged or lost.
While some investigators state that UTIs are not transmitted from person to person, other investigators dispute this and say UTIs may be contagious and recommend that sex partners avoid relations until the UTI has cleared. There is no dispute about UTIs caused by sexually transmitted disease (STD) organisms; these infections (gonorrhea, chlamydia) are easily transmitted between sex partners and are very contagious.
Why do women get urinary tract infections more often than men?
The urethra is also located near the rectum in women. Bacteria from the rectum can easily travel up the urethra and cause infections.
How do I know if I have a urinary tract infection?
How are urinary tract infections treated?
Your doctor may also suggest a medicine to numb your urinary tract and make you feel better while the antibiotic starts to work. The medicine makes your urine turn bright orange, so don't be alarmed by the color when you urinate.
Possible signs of a urinary tract infection
- A burning sensation when you urinate
- Feeling like you need to urinate more often than usual
- Feeling the urge to urinate but not being able to
- Leaking a little urine
- Cloudy, dark, smelly or bloody urine
What can I do if I have frequent infections?
Your doctor also may give you a low dose of medicine for several months or longer to prevent infections from coming back.
If having sex seems to cause your infections, your doctor may suggest that you take a single low dose antibiotic pill after you have sex to prevent urinary tract infections.
Tips on preventing urinary tract infections
- Drink plenty of water to flush out bacteria. Drinking cranberry juice may also help prevent urinary tract infections. However, if you're taking Warfarin, check with your doctor before using cranberry juice to prevent urinary tract infections. Your doctor may need to adjust your warfarin dose or you may need to have more frequent blood tests.
- Don't hold your urine. Urinate when you feel like you need to.
- Wipe from front to back after bowel movements.
- Urinate after having sex to help wash away bacteria.
- Use enough lubrication during sex. Try using a small amount of lubricant (such as K-Y Jelly) before sex if you're a little dry.
- If you get urinary tract infections often, you may want to avoid using a diaphragm as a birth control method. Ask your doctor about other birth control choices.
How serious are urinary tract infections?