Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are surprisingly common. It is estimated that almost half of all women and one in twenty men will get a UTI at some point in their lifetime. If left untreated, UTIs can lead to kidney infections; therefore it is important to be able to recognise the causes and early symptoms of a UTI and visit your doctor for early management of the condition.
Causes and Symptoms of UTIs
The urinary system consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Its job is simply to excrete bodily waste in the form of urine. The kidneys are responsible for acting as filtration units and removing body waste products from the blood and converting them into urine. The urine is then passed through the ureters, the bladder, and finally the urethra so that it can leave the body.
UTIs will occur when the urinary tract becomes infected – usually from bacteria which live in the digestive system. Bacteria can often enter the urinary tract from the urethra, for example from the anus when faecal bacteria are transmitted by toilet paper if women wipe from back to front. Women are more likely to get UTIs as their urethra is shorter and also closer to the anus than it is in men, which means the chances of bacteria entering the urinary system are greater.
Women are more likely to get UTIs if they are;
- Sexually active. Having sex can irritate the urethra and allow bacteria to travel easily through the urethra and into the bladder.
- Using a diaphragm as contraception. The diaphragm can place pressure on the bladder preventing it from emptying properly.
- Pregnant or going through menopause. Both conditions come with hormonal changes which can make women more vulnerable to UTIs.
Overall, people are more likely to develop UTIs if they have (2);
- Kidney stones or similar conditions which block the urinary tract
- Conditions which prevent the bladder from fully emptying
- Urinary catheters
- Medical conditions or treatments which weaken the immune system, such as diabetes or chemotherapy
- Medical conditions which involve the bladder or kidneys and may prevent urine from correctly travelling through the urinary system
UTI symptoms can vary; however, they will commonly include a burning sensation when passing urine or the need to urinate urgently and more frequently. Some individuals feel they need to urinate but are unable to fully empty their bladder. Urine can be cloudy, bloody, pink, or dark, with a highly unpleasant and unusual smell. Patients may also feel a dull pain in their pelvis, back pain, or even a fever if the infection has progressed.
Treatments for UTIs
A doctor must properly diagnose UTIs before treatment can begin. Diagnosis will involve a quick urine test, and patients may sometimes be asked for additional samples to be sent to a laboratory to determine which bacteria are present, or which antibiotics will work best for treatment.
Doctors can prescribe a course of antibiotics that can treat the infection within a few days. Remember it is important to complete the full course of antibiotics even if the symptoms appear to have disappeared.
Other self-help options for UTI management involve drinking large amounts of water to dilute and flush out the bacteria. Avoiding drinks such as caffeine or alcohol which irritate the bladder is also recommended.
If you suspect you have a UTI, it is best to make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible for a professional diagnosis and appropriate treatment before the infection spreads.
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Medical information published on this website is of a general nature only and not intended to be a substitute for informed healthcare professional advice or clinical care. If you have specific healthcare concerns or issues you should consult with a qualified health care professional such as your own GP.