A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that affects the urinary system, namely your kidneys, uterus, bladder, and urethra. Most infections usually affect the lower urinary tract which is known as the bladder and the urethra.
Studies reveal that women are at greater risk of developing an infection than men are due to the fact that the urethra is shorter and closer to the anus and vagina. An Infection is painful and somewhat burning and irritating in that it causes you to urinate frequently, most of the time this is only a few drops. Other symptoms to look out for if you suspect you have a UTI is if your urine appears to be cloudy, red or very dark in color. Pelvic pain and urine that has a pungent smell are also common symptoms to look out for.
While there are a few things you can do at home to try alleviate some of the discomfort, this infection does pose a risk if it left untreated for too long. Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and prevent it from spreading to the kidneys.
Below is everything you need to know about urinary tract infections and how to prevent them from occurring in the future.
Causes Of Urinary Tract Infections
The infection commonly occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra and begins to spread in the bladder. While the urinary system is designed to prevent harmful bacteria from entering, it sometime fails and the bacteria begins to latch on and colonize, causing a fully developed infection in the urinary tract.
A common type of infection is called cystitis and is usually caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli), a strain of bacteria which is commonly found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Sexual intercourse may also cause cystitis, however, it does not necessarily mean that you have to be sexually active in order to contract it. Women of all ages are prone to these infections despite their sexual activity.
An infection of the urethra is called urethritis and usually occurs when the bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract spreads from the anus to the urethra.The reason why females are prone to urethritis and sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and herpes is because the urethra is located close to the vaginal opening. The symptoms of a UTI and yeast infections are very similar however, the difference between a yeast infection and a UTI, is a cheesy discharge which is often accompanied by a bad odor (found in a yeast infection).
These infections are caused by anything that might introduce bacteria to the urinary tract, especially sexual infections (herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and mycoplasma). Yeast infections have similar symptoms, but there is one thing that stands out when having a bladder infection, and that is a cheesy discharge or bad odor.
What Are The Risk factors?
Women are at higher risk for developing a urinary tract infection more than once in their lifetimes because of the following factors:
Design Of The Female Anatomy
As we have mentioned previously, a woman has a shorter urethra than a man does. The reason why this makes women more prone to the infection is because the distance in which the bacteria must travel in order to reach the bladder is much shorter.
Sexual Activity And Contraception
Women who are sexually active are more prone to developing a UTI than those who are not sexually active at all. Certain types of birth control may also cause infections due to the fact that they lower estrogen levels which are crucial for maintaining healthy vaginal tissues and the natural flora within the urinary tract. Contraceptive methods such as diaphragm and spermicidal agents also heighten the risk of developing an infection.
Similar to oral contraceptives, menopause causes a decrease in circulating estrogen and changes in the urinary tract which increases the risk of an infection.
General Risk Factors
- A suppressed immune system caused by factors such as diabetes and other autoimmune disorders.
- Blockages in the urinary tract. Kidney stones or an enlarged prostate can trap urine in the bladder and increase the risk of infection.
- Catheter use. People who can't urinate on their own and use a tube (catheter) to urinate have an increased risk of this infection.
- A recent urinary procedure. Urinary surgery or an exam of your urinary tract that involves medical instruments can both increase your risk of developing a urinary tract infection.
What makes women more susceptible to urinary tract infections are their anatomy (anus and urinary tract being in close proximity to each other), menopause, the use of birth control, any urinary surgery or catheter use, a weak immune system, kidney stones and even diabetes.
What Happens If A UTI Is Left Untreated?
When treated promptly and properly, lower urinary tract infections infrequently lead to complications. But left untreated, a urinary tract infection can have serious repercussions.
These repercussions may include:
- Recurrent infections, meaning that if you have experienced two or more infections in a six-month period or more than four a year. This could lead to permanent kidney damage from an acute or chronic kidney infection (pyelonephritis) due to an untreated infection.
- Preterm labor and the risk of delivering a low birth weight baby are significantly higher if a urinary tract infection is left untreated.
- In older individuals (50+), UTIs are quite common, however, if left untreated, there may be severe complications in behavior such as agitation and delirium in both men and women.
- Sepsis or more commonly known as blood poisoning is a major factor in urinary tract infections especially if left untreated. In severe cases, sepsis can damage vital organs such as the liver and kidneys.
Should an infection go unnoticed, things could get ugly. Permanent kidney damage, giving birth to low-weight or premature infants and the potentially deadly Sepsis.
There are various ways to prevent urinary tract infections, from hygiene to your diet, implementing these methods will help reduce your chances of developing a UTI:
- It is essential to increase your water intake. By drinking water, it helps to dilute your urine and promotes frequent urination - allowing bacteria to be flushed from your urinary tract before an infection can begin.
- Good eating habits are proven to support the immune system, and having a strong immune system will help your body fight off any infections.
- Drink cranberry juice. Although studies are not conclusive that cranberry juice prevents infection, it is likely not harmful and very healthy.
- Wipe from front to back after urinating and after a bowel movement, this helps to prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
- Avoid using feminine products which are fragranced such as deodorant sprays douches and powders in the genital area as they can irritate the urethra.
- Change your birth control method. Watch out as diaphragms, or unlubricated or spermicide-treated condoms, can all contribute to bacterial growth.
UTI is an infection that seems to be a part on many people's lives and with the proper treatment can be overcome. Prevention is the key factor, especially when it comes to
children. Children should be trained to make the parent aware if any of the above symptoms occur. Adults should take the necessary steps if they have any of the symptoms mentioned
In the above article.