Urinary Tract Infection

With today’s fast paced lifestyle and the increasing demands of work, family, and friends, it is often tricky to look after yourself as well as you should. Eating right, exercising, and getting enough rest every day can be difficult, and, as a result, you weaken your immune system, leaving yourself open for infections. One of the most common types of infections affecting women is a urinary tract infection. Often referred to as UTIs, urinary tract infections can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms. Though treatment for a UTI is available from your health care provider, if left untreated, UTIs can cause a number of serious health related issues.

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract, the part of your body that is responsible for filtering out liquid waste. Your urinary tract is comprised of your kidneys, bladder, ureters (tubes that carry urine from your kidney to your bladder), and your urethra. Urinary tract infections often begin in the urethra and, if left untreated, can travel throughout the rest of the urinary tract. Men, women, and children can all develop urinary tract infections, but women appear to be at particular risk. More than 50% of all women will develop a UTI at some point in their lives.

What Causes Urinary Tract Infections?

The main cause of urinary tract infection is the presence of foreign bacteria in the urinary tract. Foreign bacteria typically enter the urinary tract through the urethra. Once the bacteria are inside of the urinary tract they multiply, causing infection. There are a number of different bacteria that are responsible for urinary tract infections, including:

  • E. coli: E. coli is responsible for causing about 80% of all UTIs in adult men and women. E. coli bacteria is present around the anus and vagina, and can enter the urethra during sexual intercourse or when wiping after a bowel movement.
  • Staphylococcus: The staphylococcus bacteria is responsible for causing between 5% and 15% of all urinary tract infections.
  • Chlamydia: The chlamydia bacteria, known as chlamydia trachomatis, is also one of the causes of UTI.

Who’s At Risk for Developing a Urinary Tract Infection?

Women, men, and children can all develop urinary tract infections. However, women appear to be at most risk for developing these infections. This is probably due to the fact that the urethra is much shorter and closer to the anus in women then in men. Additional risk factors include:

  • having a poor immune system (due to disease or certain medications)
  • having kidney stones
  • being sexually active
  • menopause
  • pregnancy

Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infection symptoms vary from person to person, and tend to become worse as the infection progresses. Typical symptoms include:

  • strong urge to urinate
  • difficulty urinating, or urinating small amounts
  • cloudy or bloody urine
  • urine that has a foul smell
  • pain or burning upon urination

Additional symptoms that may signal a more serious infection include: fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain.

Complications of Urinary Tract Infections

Most UTIs are easily treated and cause no serious health problems. However, if your UTI is left untreated, it is possible that the infection will travel up the urinary tract, leading to an infection of the kidneys. Known as pyelonephritis, this type of infection can become very serious, resulting in permanent kidney problems and even death.

Urinary tract infections have also been shown to cause problems during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and have urinary tract infection symptoms, it is important to seek treatment right away. UTIs during pregnancy are associated with an increased risk for preterm birth and having a low birth weight baby.

Diagnosing a Urinary Tract Infection

Diagnosis of a urinary tract infection is relatively straightforward. Your health care provider will perform a urinalysis. You will be asked to collect a sample of your urine in a small jar. This urine will then be sent away to a laboratory and analyzed for the number of white blood cells it contains. Elevated levels of these cells will indicate the presence of an infection. However, some doctors may prefer to perform a dipstick test, whereby a chemically treated testing strip is dipped into the urine sample. The strip will then change colour to indicate whether or not a urinary tract infection is present. This test is most helpful in women but may also be used with children and infants.

Once a urinary tract infection has been confirmed, your health care provider will try to determine what type of bacteria is causing the infection. A sample of bacteria from your urethra will be taken and cultured for a few days. This culture will then be analyzed in order to determine the type of bacteria responsible for the UTI.

Urinary Tract Infection Treatment

Most UTIs can be treated effectively with a course of antibiotics. Depending upon the type of bacteria causing your infection, you may receive a different type of antibiotic. Common antibiotics include:

  • amoxicillin
  • trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole
  • doxycycline

Treatment typically takes one to two weeks, however UTI symptoms begin to disappear within a few days.

Preventing Urinary Tract Infections

You can work to reduce your risk of UTI by following these tips:

  • Cleanse your genitals daily.
  • Wipe front to back after a bowel movement.
  • Drink lots of water to help cleanse your urinary tract.
  • Avoid using scented bubble paths or feminine products.
  • Avoid douching.
  • Urinate whenever you feel the urge and immediately after sex.

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