Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

A UTI is when bacteria gets into your urine and travels up to your bladder.

How Does the Urinary Tract Work?

The urinary tract makes and stores urine. Urine is made in the kidneys and travels down the ureters to the bladder. The bladder stores the urine until it is emptied through the urethra.
Normal urine has no bacteria in it, and the one-way flow helps prevent infections. Still, bacteria may get into the urine from the urethra and travel up into the bladder.

What are the Signs of a UTI?

The lining of the bladder and urethra become red and irritated which can cause pain in your belly and pelvic area and may make you feel like urinating more often. You may even try to urinate but only get a few drops and/or feel some burning as your urine comes out. At times, you may lose control and wet yourself. You may also find that your urine smells bad or is cloudy.
Kidney infections often cause fevers and back pain.

What Causes a UTI?

Large numbers of bacteria live in the rectal area and also on your skin. Bacteria may get into the urine from the urethra and travel into the bladder. They may even travel up to the kidney.

Body Factors

Women after menopause have a change in the lining of the vagina and lose the protection of estrogen that lowers the chance of getting a UTI. Some women are genetically predisposed to UTIs and have urinary tracts that make it easier for bacteria to cling to them. Sexual intercourse can also affect how often you get UTIs.

Birth Control

Women who use diaphragms have also been found to have a higher risk when compared to those who use other forms of birth control. Using condoms with spermicidal foam is also known to be linked to greater risk of getting UTIs in women. Women are more prone to UTIs because they have shorter urethras than men, so bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to reach the bladder.

Abnormal Anatomy

You are more likely to get a UTI if your urinary tract has an abnormality or has recently had a device (such as a tube to drain fluid from the body) placed in it. If you are not able to urinate normally because of some type of block, you will also have a higher chance of a UTI.

Immune System

Issues such as diabetes (high blood sugar) also put people at higher risk for UTIs because the body is not able to fight off germs as well.

Can UTIs be Prevented?

There are steps women can take to avoid UTIs:

  • Urinating after sex may lower the risk of UTI by flushing out bacteria that may have gotten into the urinary tract during intercourse.
  • Certain forms of birth control, such as spermicidal foam and diaphragms, are known to increase the risk of UTIs in women. Check with your health care provider about other types of birth control.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep well hydrated.
  • Don’t put off urinating when you need to and don’t rush to finish. Holding in urine and not draining your bladder fully can increase your risk of UTIs.
  • Wipe from front to back to keep bacteria around the anus from getting into the vagina or urethra.

How are UTIs Diagnosed?

UTIs can be found by analyzing a urine sample. The urine is examined under a microscope for bacteria or white blood cells, which are signs of infection.
Blood in the urine may be caused by a UTI but it may also be from another problem in the urinary tract.

How are UTIs Treated?

A UTI can be treated with a short course of antibiotic meds. You should also drink plenty of liquids, especially around the time of a UTI. Sometimes IV antibiotics are needed for severe infections.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I get UTIs? 
Most UTIs are single events that, if treated, will not come back. Some patients have anatomical and genetic predispositions that tend to make getting UTIs more likely.

When should I be worried? 
If you are being treated for a UTI and are not getting better, or you have symptoms of a UTI along with upset stomach and throwing up, then you should call your physician.

Will a UTI cause damage to the kidneys? 
If the UTI is treated early, then there will likely be no lasting effect on your urinary tract. UTIs can cause harm if not found and treated quickly.

What if I am pregnant? 
If you are pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI, then you should call your health care provider right away. UTIs during pregnancy can put both mother and baby at risk if not dealt with quickly and properly.