Everything You Need to Know About Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

May 06,2019 |
urinary tract infection

The human body has the ability to do some amazing things. Our internal organs work together within numerous systems to essentially cleanse, repair, and create during every second of every day. The urinary system, which includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder, urethra, and renal pelvis, is no different. As your body digests food, nutrients are extracted and converted into energy. During this chemical process a waste product is created, which ends up either in the bowel or the blood.1 Your urinary system works hard to constantly filter your blood, creating urine as a waste by-product.1

Like other parts of your body, your urinary tract is susceptible to infection. When this happens, it’s uncomfortable and if untreated, becomes serious. In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about urinary tract infections.

 

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection localized in the urinary system due to microbes that enter the bladder through the urethra. Sometimes, in more serious cases, the microbes can travel up the ureter and into your kidneys, which is one reason why seeking treatment is so important. Infections involving the upper tract are less common, but much more serious.

The most common culprit for UTIs is a bacterium, however UTIs have also been treated from fungus infections and even viruses. Due to the small amount of microbes needed to create infection, it’s not surprising that UTIs are one of the most common infections in humans.1

Causes of a UTI

The underlying cause of a UTI is bacteria or microbes that enter your urethra and cause infection, but there are things that increase the risk of this happening. Irritants also commonly cause infections. Some common risk factors include:1

  • Previous history of UTIs
  • Kidney stones
  • Diabetes
  • Prolonged immobility or bed rest
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Pregnancy
  • The use of catheters over long periods of time
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Age

 

Common Signs and Symptoms

If your like most adults and have experienced a UTI, the symptoms are all too familiar. UTIs are very uncomfortable and the symptoms will persist until the infection is treated. The most common symptoms of a lower urinary tract infection include:2

  • A burning sensation during urination
  • Feeling a frequent or intense need to urinate, without expelling much urine
  • Cloudy or dark urine
  • Urine producing a strong odor
  • Bloody urine
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Shakiness
  • Pressure in your lower abdomen

In men, symptoms can include rectal pain and in women, symptoms can include pelvic pain.

If you are experiencing an upper tract infection, the symptoms are more flu-like. This is a sign that the infection has reached your kidneys and you should seek treatment immediately. These symptoms include:1

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Pain or tenderness in the upper back and sides, where your kidneys are located

 

Urinary Tract Infections in Women

UTIs are much more common in women. In fact, women experience UTIs eight times more often than men.1 This is because anatomically speaking, women have a much shorter urethra than men and it’s located very close to the vagina and anus.2 Thus one of the many reasons women are taught to wipe from front to back for proper bathroom hygiene. Due to the close proximity of the urethra and anus, bacteria are able to travel with ease. If bacteria do enter the urethra, they quickly arrive in the bladder and symptoms of a UTI present themselves. Since UTIs can be reoccurring, it’s important to practice good hygiene, consider some lifestyle changes, and seek treatment whenever you experience signs or symptoms of a UTI.

It should also be noted that women are more susceptible to developing a UTI after having sex. UTIs are not considered a sexually transmitted disease in any way, but the physical act of having sex moves bacteria around. The urethra is located right next to a woman’s vagina so during sex, bacteria is easily transported from the vagina, and penis, into the urethra.3

Using the bathroom immediately after sex allows your body to rid bacteria that has entered the urethra and reduces the risks of developing an infection.

Some other things that contribute to an increase in UTIs in women include the use of non-lubricated condoms, diaphragms, or spermicidal lube. After a woman passes through menopause, the decrease in estrogen changes the pH of her vagina, which in turn changes the bacteria and increases UTI risks.1

 

Diagnosing Urinary Tract Infections

If you notice any signs or symptoms of a UTI, contact your doctor. The only way to diagnose a UTI is through a urine test. A urine test allows your doctor to perform a urine culture and see if there are any microbes present. This culture is important for identifying the underlying cause and move forward with the most effective treatment plan. Simply put, a urine test allows for the best and fastest recovery.

To make sure the urine is not contaminated during the testing process, you will need to collect urine from the middle of your urinary stream.1 This means you will start using the bathroom and then collect urine only after expelling some into the toilet. This helps reduce the possibility of bacteria from your skin from entering the sample and is commonly referred to as a “clean catch.”1

Chronic Urinary Tract Infections and Treatment Options

Unfortunately, some people recurrently experience UTIs. Not only does this become frustrating, but the consistent use of antibiotics is not ideal. If you deal with recurrent UTIs, talk to your doctor about scheduling further tests to find the underlying cause. Some tests that your doctor will use include:

  • Ultrasound – this allows your doctor to produce an image of your urinary tract organs to see if there are any obstructions or abnormalities.

     

  • Intravenous Pyelogram (IVP) – for this test, dye is injected into your body and passes through your urinary tract system. When localized, an X-ray is taken and your urinary tract system is viewed in detaili.1

     

  • Cystoscopy – this method utilizes a small camera that’s inserted through your urethra and into your bladder.1 This gives your doctor a more realistic viewpoint and allows for a piece of bladder to be removed and biopsied for problems.

     

  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan – this is similar to an IVP. A CT scan produces detailed images for your doctor to examine your urinary tract system more thoroughly.

 

How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

Regardless of if you have recurrent UTIs or simply want to avoid the hassle of antibiotics, there are preventative measures you can take. One of the best ways to ensure that you don’t have to deal with a UTI is to stay hydrated. Drinking enough water allows your urethra to flush itself out consistently throughout the day, dislodging and expelling bacteria along the way. If you do need to use the bathroom, don’t hold it. Holding your urine for too long contributes to the development of a UTI. Some other preventative measures include:3

  • Emptying your bladder when you need to
  • Emptying your bladder completely
  • Wiping front to back
  • Opting for showers, not baths
  • Cleaning your genitals before sex
  • Keeping your genital area dry
  • Avoiding tight fitting clothing
  • Using the bathroom immediately after sex

Women should make sure that their birth control method isn’t causing physical irritation. In some studies, it’s been shown that cranberry supplements and vaginal probiotics reduce the risk of developing a UTI.1 Postmenopausal woman experiencing recurring UTIs should talk to their doctor about using a topical estrogen.

 

The Danger of an Untreated Urinary Tract Infection

As we mentioned, if UTIs go untreated, they’re more likely to develop into an upper tract infection. If this happens, the infection will become more severe and continue to spread. Upper UTIs are more difficult to treat and when untreated, become fatal. When the infection spreads into your blood, your body goes into sepsis, which is life-threatening.1 This is why it’s so important to contact your doctor and get a urine culture as soon as you notice any signs or symptoms. UTIs are easy to treat and are harmless when managed early.

 

Conclusion

Your urinary tract system is an impressive system. It works constantly throughout the day to make sure your body has the nutrients it needs and expels what it doesn't. However, UTIs are still a common occurrence and not something that should be taken lightly. If you think you have a UTI, contact your doctor immediately. If you encounter any problems, have longstanding urology problems, or need supplies or educational resources, visit our educational support page or our product selection guide. Byram is a full-service urological care supplier and offers a wide selection of high quality urological supplies that are discreetly delivered to your home. We also offer a team of knowledgeable urological customer service specialists to help answer questions and offer you personalized, confidential services.

Sources:

1https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/anatomy-of-the-urinary-system

2https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/your-guide-urinary-tract-infections#1

3https://www.health.com/sexual-health/7-things-every-woman-should-know-about-utis

 

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