A UTI is usually treatable with mild medical intervention and resolves fairly quickly.
The urinary tract involves the production of urine and the pathway in which it leaves the body. Urine is produced in the kidneys and travels to the bladder via the ureters, where it is temporarily stored. When the bladder becomes full, urine flows out of the bladder and down the urethra, exiting the body.
A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria enters the urethra and flourishes. If bacteria reach the bladder and continue to grow, a bladder infection may result.
Without treatment, the bacteria could ascend the ureters, infecting the kidneys as well. If the infection travels to the kidneys, without proper treatment, permanent damage or other complications could occur.
Several risk factors have been identified. Due to the female anatomy, women are more likely to experience UTIs than men. The female urethra is shorter and in closer proximity to the anus. Fecal bacteria can easily enter the urethra, causing infection. Sexual intercourse can also introduce bacteria into the urethra. Pregnant and post-menopausal women have a higher incidence of UTI as well.
Men can also acquire UTIs, although the likelihood is far less. Uncircumcised males and those who engage in anal intercourse are at risk. Unprotected intercourse with a woman who is infected may also result in a UTI.
If flow of urine is obstructed in some way, (ex: kidney stones or congenital abnormalities) bacteria can multiply, causing infection. Urinary catheters present a significant risk because bacteria can easily travel up the catheter and into the bladder. Individuals with a compromised immune system are also at risk.
Symptoms may vary, depending on the amount of bacteria present and the portion of the urinary tract that is infected. Symptoms range from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful and debilitating. Some cases (especially pregnant women) are asymptomatic. Symptoms may include:
Pain or burning with urination
Frequency or urgency in urinating
Urinating small amounts
Cloudy or blood-tinged urine
Foul urine odor
Fever or chills
Nausea or vomiting
Pain in flank area or lower abdomen
A urine sample is generally all that is required to diagnose an uncomplicated UTI. A urinalysis and culture will help determine if infection is present and which antibiotics will be most effective. More severe UTIs may need further testing to determine the ideal course of treatment.
Treatment will vary, depending on the severity of the UTI. Occasionally, a UTI can resolve on its own. Many times, an antibiotic is needed. Increasing fluid intake, urinating frequently, and attempting to completely empty the bladder will help speed recovery.
Recurring Urinary Tract Infection
A recurrent UTI may be diagnosed if a patient has been adequately treated and symptoms have resolved; only to have symptoms return again. Individuals with two UTIs in six months or three in one year should seek medical evaluation. Further testing may be needed to help determine the underlying cause. There may be structural abnormalities, urinary retention, or resistant bacteria to blame.