Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of the urinary system including:

  • Upper tract:
    • Kidneys
    • Ureter—tubes from kidneys to bladder
  • Lower tract:
    • Bladder
    • Urethra—tubes from bladder that lets urine pass out of the body

The infection can cause swelling in the tract and make it painful to pass urine. The infection may be named for the specific area of the urinary tract that it effects:

The Urinary Tract

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Causes

UTIs are caused by bacteria. The bacteria cling to the opening of the urethra and begin to grow. The infection can then move up and spread into the tract. If the infection is not treated is can lead to a severe kidney infection.

Most UTIs are caused by a bacteria that normally live in the colon or vagina. The bacteria are able to pass or are moved to the opening of the urethra.

Risk Factors

UTIs are more common in women.

Other factors that may increase your chance of a UTI include:

  • Being sexually active
  • Use of spermicide
  • New sexual partner
  • History of UTIs in sister, mother, or daughter

Some conditions may increase the chance of a UTI:

Symptoms

Some may not have any symptoms. Those that do have symptoms may have:

  • Urgent need to urinate
  • Small amounts of urine during urination
  • Pain in the abdomen or pelvic area
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Cloudy, bad-smelling urine
  • Increased need to get up at night to urinate
  • Leaking of urine
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea and low desire to eat

An infection in the kidney can be more serious. Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms of a kidney infection, such as:

  • Bloody urine
  • Low back pain or pain along the side of the ribs
  • High fever and chills

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. A sample of your urine will be studied for blood and pus. Sometimes the urine will be tested to look for the exact type of bacteria.

A CT scan may be needed for more severe or recurrent infections. The scan may help to see problems or blockages in the urinary tract.

Treatment

UTIs are treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are most often taken over 3 days. You will probably start to feel better after 1-2 days. It is important to take all of the medicine, even if you feel better. A hospital stay may be needed with a severe infection. This will allow the antibiotics to be delivered through IV.

The infection may cause pain and spasms in the bladder. Your doctor may recommend medicine to help manage pain until it passes.

UTIs can be passed between sexual partners. Ask if your partner should consider getting treatment as well.

Prevention

To help decrease the risk of a UTI:

  • Empty your bladder completely and drink a full glass of water after having sex.
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.

If the UTI is due to a problem with the urinary tract it may need to be fixed. The repair may help prevent future infections.