A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that can affect any part of the urinary tract. The urinary system is composed of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra, and while any part of the system can be infected, most infections involve the lower urinary tract — the bladder and the urethra.
Though the technical term for bladder infection is cystitis, most people use UTI and bladder infection interchangeably.
Causes and Symptoms of UTI
Although anyone can get cystitis, adult women are most commonly affected. Statistics show that most women are infected at least once in their lifetime and while it is a rare event for some, it can happen four or five times a year for others.
The most common causes associated with UTIs are:
Escherichia coli (E. coli):
E. coli is a species of bacteria found in the genital area and these bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and travel upward, causing an infection in the bladder and other parts of the urinary tract. A new strain of antibiotic-resistant E. coli may be the cause of increasingly hard-to-treat UTIs in women.
This is a common cause of UTIs among women because the female anatomy makes women more prone to UTIs. The bacteria in the vaginal area may travel to the urethra, thus causing an infection.
Not urinating enough:
The bladder is a muscle that stretches to hold the urine and contracts when the urine is released. Waiting too long to relieve yourself can cause the bladder to stretch beyond its capacity and over time, this can weaken the bladder muscle. Once weakened, the bladder may not empty completely and this may increase the risk of urinary tract infections.
Other causes include gynecologic cancers, chemotherapy, hypersensitivity to soaps and sexually transmitted diseases like herpes and gonorrhea. The symptoms of UTI are hard to miss and the condition is reversible.
The symptoms of UTI include:
- Pain or burning during urination
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Unusual discharge from the urethra
- Cloudy and/or foul-smelling urine
- Blood in the urine
In rare cases, when the infection becomes aggravated, the symptoms can become more serious too.
Some severe symptoms that may be observed include:
- Back pain
- Changes in eating habits or mental changes like confusion in seniors
Diagnosis and Treatment of UTIs
The doctor may analyze a urine sample to determine the components and make a diagnosis. Some doctors may also do a cystoscopy, where a thin tube with a light and camera is inserted through the urethra into the bladder. The cystoscope can help remove a small sample of tissue for a biopsy, but this may not be required for individuals who are suffering from a UTI for the first time.
The prognosis for most cases of UTIs is excellent since mild bladder infections may resolve by themselves, especially when complemented by home remedies such as drinking plenty of fluids like water and cranberry juice.
If the symptoms do not resolve within 24 hours, though, it is recommended to consult a doctor who may prescribe antibiotics for a faster cure.
A common home treatment for UTI is pyridium, an anesthetic agent that may relieve some symptoms but not treat the infection. Another natural remedy is Uva ursi or bearberry, which may have antiseptic properties. Other natural remedies include baking soda, foods rich in vitamin C, apple cider vinegar, pineapples, chamomile and dandelion.
Because UTI is such a common condition, experts recommend these preventative tips:
For men and women
- Urinate regularly and completely
- Drink plenty of fluids (water) to help flush the bacteria out
- Incorporate cranberry juice or over-the-counter cranberry supplements
- Reduce the intake of irritants like alcohol and coffee
- Make sure a diaphragm fits well and is removed on time
- Wipe from front to back after emptying the bladder to prevent the bacteria from entering the urethra
- Eat yogurt to help prevent an infection
Urinary tract infections are characterized by frequent urination and a burning sensation during urination. The condition lasts only a few days and is usually completely curable.
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