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Urinary Tract Infection

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is when bacteria gets into the urinary tract and causes symptoms. If the infection is not treated, it can also spread to affect the kidneys, which is a more serious condition. UTIs cause more than 8.1 million visits to healthcare providers each year. About 10 in 25 women and 3 in 25 men will have symptoms of at least one UTI during their lifetime.

UTI risk factors

While both men and women can be at risk of having a UTI, the chances women will have one are much higher. There are certain risk factors that for UTIs that you should be aware of that may explain why you have gotten one or may help you prevent you from of getting one.

Female UTI risk factors include:
  • Anatomy – Women have shorter urethras than men which allows bacteria to travel more quickly to the bladder.
  • Sexual activity – Sexually active women are more likely to have a UTI than non-sexually active women.
  • Types of birth control – Women who use diaphragms or spermicidal agents for birth control may be at higher risk.
  • Menopause – A decline in circulating estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract that make you more vulnerable to infection after going through menopause.
Other risk factors include:
  • Urinary tract abnormalities – Babies born with urinary tract abnormalities that cause urine to be backed up in the urethra or unable to leave the body are more at risk for UTIs.
  • Blockages in urinary tract – Other medical issues, including kidney stones or an enlarged prostate, could cause urine to be trapped in the bladder increasing the risk of UTIs.
  • A suppressed immune system – Diabetes and other diseases that prevent the body to fight off germs can lead to an increased risk of a UTI.
  • Catheter use – People who use a catheter to urinate may be at increased risk of UTIs.
  • Recent urinary procedures – Urinary surgery or recent examination of the urinary tract using medical instruments could increase the risk of developing a UTI.

UTI symptoms

The following symptoms may be a sign that you have developed a UTI, although they can occur in people without infections:

  • A burning feeling when you urinate.
  • A frequent or intense urge to need to urinate, even though little comes out when you do.
  • Pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen.
  • Cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange-smelling urine.
  • Feeling tired or shaky.
  • Fevers or chills (a sign the infection may have reached your kidneys).

How is a UTI diagnosed?

There are multiple tests that can help to confirm a diagnosis of a UTI. These can include:

  • Analyzing a urine sample.
  • Growing urinary tract bacteria in a lab.
  • Blood tests looking for signs of infection.

How is a UTI treated?

Normally, the first course of action to treat a UTI would be antibiotics. The type of antibiotics, the dosage, and the length of time they are prescribed to you depends on your health condition and the type of bacteria that is found in your urine. Often, simple infections clear up within the first few days of treatment; however, if you are prone to frequent infections your doctor might recommend other treatment options, including radiology studies and looking into the bladder with a telescope (cystoscopy).

How can UTIs be prevented?

  • Drink plenty of water. Drinking water helps dilute your urine and ensures that you’ll urinate more frequently. This practice allows bacteria to be flushed from your urinary tract before an infection can begin.
  • Drink cranberry juice. Studies are not conclusive that drinking cranberry juice actually prevents UTIs, but it is not likely harmful.
  • Wipe from front to back. This helps prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
  • Empty your bladder soon after intercourse.
  • Avoid potentially irritating feminine products. Deodorant sprays, douches and powders in the genital area can irritate the urethra.
  • Change your birth control method. Diaphragms and condoms can all contain spermicides which are associated with recurrent UTIs.