Urinary Tract Infection

Overview

Urinary tract infection or UTI refers to the disease that takes place in any region of the urinary system. These include the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. The majority of these infections happen in the lower urinary tract, specifically in the urethra and bladder. Women are of higher risk of having UTI compared to men. The disease that is focused on the bladder tends to be painful and bothersome. But, severe consequences can happen in case the UTI radiates to the kidneys. 

Causes of Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections usually happen when the bacteria make their way to the urinary tract via the urethra and starts to multiply in the bladder. Even if the urinary system is engineered to block minute invaders such as bacteria, this protection sometimes fail. When this occurs, bacteria might lodge and grow into a severe infection in the urinary tract. 

The most prevalent urinary tract infections happen mainly among women and impact the urethra and bladder. These include:

  • Urethritis or infection of the urethra – this specific kind of UTI might occur if the GI bacteria spreads out from the anus going to the urethra. Since the urethra is located near the vagina, many sexually transmitted infections such as mycoplasma, gonorrhea, herpes, and chlamydia, can potentially cause urethritis.
  • Cystitis or infection of the bladder – this type of UTI is typically caused by Escherichia coli or E. coli, a particular form of bacteria that usually dwells in the gastrointestinal tract or GI tract. But, there are also cases of cystitis that are triggered by bacteria.

Other common causes of UTI include the following:

  • diabetes
  • sexual intercourse, most especially if more often, extreme, and with numerous or new partners
  • pregnancy
  • kidney stones
  • bowel incontinence
  • some types of contraception
  • poor personal hygiene
  • troubles emptying the bladder completely
  • blocked urine flow
  • having a urinary catheter
  • extreme use of antibiotics that can alter the natural flora of the urinary tract and bowel
  • menopause
  • immobility for a prolonged period
  • suppressed immune system
  • use of tampons and spermicides

Diagnosis and Treatment

There are different procedures and tests that are performed by doctors to diagnose urinary tract infections or UTI. These include the following:

  • Examining the urine sample – doctors might ask for an example of the patient’s urine to be tested in the lab to detect red blood cells, white blood cells, or bacteria. To make sure that the sample will remain free from any contaminants, the patient will be instructed to wipe their genital area first, using an antiseptic pad, then take the urine sample midstream.
  • Cultivating urinary tract bacteria in a lab – sometimes, lab examination of the urine is succeeded by a urine culture. In this particular test, the doctor would be able to determine what kind of bacteria are behind the infection which type of medications is most ideal for treating it.
  • Making visual images of the urinary tract – if the patient is having frequent infections that the healthcare professional thinks might be due to a disorder in the urinary tract, a computerized tomography/CT scan, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging/MRI might be carried out. Aside from this, the doctor might also utilize a contrast dye to accentuate the structures in the patient’s urinary tract.
  • Utilizing a scope to see the interior of the bladder – in case the patient is experiencing recurring UTIs, the doctor might render a cystoscopy, using a long and thin tube that has a cystoscope or lens to see the interior of the bladder and urethra. The procedure starts with the cystoscope being inserted in the patient’s urethra then passed through the bladder.

For urinary tract infection, the most common treatment is antibiotics. The type of drugs prescribed and for how long vary on the medical condition and the kind of bacteria detected in the patient’s urine sample.

The medications that are usually prescribed for uncomplicated UTIs include the following:

  • Ceftriaxone
  • Nitrofurantoin including Macrobid and Macrodantin
  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole such as Septra, Bactrim, and others
  • Cephalexin like Keflex
  • Fosfomycin including Monurol

The category of antibiotic medications that are called fluoroquinolones – including levofloxacin (Levaquin), ciprofloxacin (Cipro), etc. – aren’t usually prescribed to treat UTIs since the risks of these drugs typically overshadow the benefits for curing uncomplicated UTIs. But in several cases, like a severe kidney infection or complicated UTI, the doctor might give fluoroquinolone medications; in fact, no other treatment is available that will suit the condition.

Most of the time, the symptoms that are associated with UTI eventually clear up after several days of taking the treatment. However, the patient might need to continue using antibiotics for a week or more. It is also essential to consume the whole course of antibiotics as the doctor instructed. Also, the doctor might prescribe pain medication such as analgesics to numb the bladder and urethra and alleviate the burning sensation during urination. Still, most of the time, the pain stops right after taking antibiotics.

In case of frequent urination, the doctor might order particular treatment options, including:

  • For postmenopausal, vaginal estrogen therapy
  • Self-diagnosis and treatment in case you keep in touch with your healthcare provider
  • Low-dosage of antibiotic, usually within six months or longer
  • A single dose of antibiotic right after sexual intercourse, specifically if the infections are associated with sexual activity

For severe urinary tract infections, the patient might need to be given treatment using intravenous antibiotics in the hospital. 

What are the normal conditions?

Urinary tract infection is a common complication among women, but it can also affect men as well. To minimize your risk of developing urinary tract infections, you can take the following steps:

  • Drink cranberry juice – though researches are not conclusive that this type of beverage can prevent UTI, it wouldn’t hurt to try.
  • Drink lots of fluids, most notably water-consuming water assists in diluting the urine and guarantees that you will urinate more often, enabling bacteria to be secreted out of your urinary tract before it can grow and wreak havoc as an infection.
  • Avoid irritating your reproductive area with feminine products – this is specifically for women since using deodorant sprays and many other feminine products, like powders and douches in the genital area, can potentially irritate the urethra.
  • Wipe from front to back – doing this after a bowel movement or urinating greatly helps stop bacteria that dwell in the anal region from reaching the urethra and vagina.
  • Change your birth control methods – spermicide-treated or unlubricated condoms or diaphragms can all increase bacteria growth in the genital area. 

Risk of having Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections are particularly prevalent among women, and most women develop more than one disease in the course of their lifetime. Risk factors for UTIs include the following:

  • Urinary tract abnormalities – babies that are conceived with urinary tract disorders that prevent their urine from being appropriately secreted out of their body or cause the urine to return to the urethra have a higher risk of developing UTIs.
  • Sexual activity – sexually active men and women are more prone to UTI than those who are not involved in sex acts. Besides this, changing partners more often also increases the risk.
  • Suppressed immune system – diabetes and other kinds of illnesses that damage the immune system, which is the body’s number one defense against germs, can heighten the risk of urinary tract infections.
  • Blockages in the urinary tract – kidney stones or having enlarged prostate can block urine inside the bladder and surge one’s risk of suffering from UTI.
  • Menopause – right after menopause, the estrogen levels of women naturally decline, resulting in significant changes in the urinary tract, making them more prone to infection.
  • Recent urinary surgery – urinary examination or surgery of the urinary tract that has to do with medical instruments can potentially increase the risk of having a UTI.

When left untreated, a urinary tract infection might also lead to severe consequences, including:

  • Permanent kidney damage due to acute or chronic disease in the kidney
  • Recurrent infections, specifically among women who suffer from two or more UTIs over the past six months or within a year
  • The higher risk among pregnant women that deliver premature babies
  • Sepsis, a hazardous infection that affects the urinary tract and works its way up towards the kidney

When to seek medical attention

You have to contact your doctor or healthcare provider right away if the urinary tract infection that you are experiencing comes with any of the following:

  • there is blood in your urine
  • you feel a burning and painful sensation when peeing, as well as another discomfort
  • you experience extreme fever or chills
  • you notice that your urine becomes dark or cloudy, or comes with a nasty smell
  • you experience back pain and pain in regions of your bladder
  • you experience an urge to urinate more frequently
  • you usually pee more regularly but in tiny amounts

If you notice any of the following symptoms, seek immediate help from your doctor. 

Tilly Whittaker

Our Senior Editorial Pharmacist brings positivity and light banter during meetings. She is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge and explanations. You will rarely need to open a book when she's around. Her almost eidetic memory makes her an invaluable member of the group.

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