Urinary Tract Infections

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, can occur in anyone at any age, but is much more common in women. According to the Office on Women’s Health, women develop UTIs as much as 30 times more often than men.

What Is the Urinary Tract?

The urinary tract is several organs in the pelvis, including the kidneys, bladder and urine tubes, known as ureters and the urethra. The kidneys produce urine, which is made up of excess water and waste product from the blood. Urine flows from the kidneys down the ureters and is stored in the bladder. When the bladder is full, bladder muscles push urine out of the body through the urethra.

A UTI is an infection in any part of the urinary system. Left untreated, an infection in the urethra or bladder can move into the kidneys, a condition called pyelonephritis, which can lead to serious health problems. In men, a UTI can move into the prostate gland, making the infection harder to treat.

Causes of Urinary Tract Infection

UTIs are usually caused by bacteria that enter the urinary tract through the urethra and then multiply in the bladder. In rare cases, UTIs may be caused by a virus or yeast, a type of fungus.

Because the urethra is shorter in women and closer to the anus, it is easier for bacteria to enter. In men, UTI is often due to incomplete emptying of the bladder caused by an enlarged prostate gland or another blockage. Cystocele, a condition in which the bladder has fallen out of position due to weak pelvic floor muscles, can be a contributing factor to UTI in both sexes.

Types of Urinary Tract Infection

There are three main types of UTI based on where they occur in the urinary tract:

  • cystitis — bladder infection
  • pyelonephritis — kidney infection
  • urethritis — urethra infection

An infection that starts in the urethra can migrate to the bladder and kidneys.

Signs and Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infection

Symptoms of a UTI may include:

  • burning or pain during urination
  • fever or chills
  • frequent, sudden urge to urinate
  • pain in the abdomen or lower back
  • urine that is bloody, cloudy or has a strong odor
  • waking up often to urinate during the night

How Is Urinary Tract Infection Diagnosed?

In addition to physical examination and review of symptoms, diagnostic tests for UTI may include:

  • urine culture — a laboratory test for the presence of microorganisms

If the results of urine culture are inconclusive or UTIs recur frequently, additional tests may include:

  • cystometry — a special X-ray of your urinary tract to look for swelling, kidney stones or other obstructions
  • cystoscopy — an examination performed with a cystoscope, a small lighted tube equipped with a camera, to inspect the inside of the urethra and bladder for abnormalities

Treatments for Urinary Tract Infection

  • Antibiotic medications are the preferred treatment for UTIs. The specific antibiotic prescribed depends on the type of bacteria responsible as well as the duration and severity of symptoms. If UTIs recur frequently, a small daily dose of antibiotics can help prevent future infections.
  • Home care treatments include rest, drinking plenty of fluids, unless this is not permitted due to heart failure or other health problems. Urinating often can also promote healing.