Urinary tract infection

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at February 8, 2016
StartDiseasesUrinary tract infection

Urinary tract infections or UTIs are categorized as an infection within the urethra, bladder, and/or kidneys. Both men and women are susceptible to UTIs, but females have a much higher risk of developing an initial or repeat infection.

Luckily, most urinary tract infections are easily treatable and there are many prevention methods that can be implemented to minimize the risk of developing an infection.


Definition & Facts

UTIs are caused when bacteria, often from the large intestine, enter the urinary tract. Factors that put men at risk for a urinary tract infection are age, enlarged prostate, diabetes, catheter use, history of kidney stones, and health conditions affecting the immune system. For women, risk factors include sexual activity, use of birth control agents such as diaphragms and spermicides or catheters, menopause, and kidney stones.

UTIs that involve the infection of the urethra are called urethritis while UTIs that involve the infection of the bladder are called cystitis. While most UTIs occur in the lower portion of the urinary tract and are easily treatable, UTIs that are left untreated can spread to the kidneys and become much more serious.

Symptoms & Complaints

Symptoms of UTIs include:

In women, UTIs can also cause pain around the pubic bone. Additional symptoms can alert the patient to the area of infection. Burning sensations and urethral discharge are associated with infections within the urethra; abdominal pain and pelvic pain, as well as blood in urine are symptoms of the infection spreading into the bladder.

More serious complaints such as back pain, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting are signs of a UTI within the kidneys. While some people do not experience any discomfort or display any symptoms of infection, it is important to seek medical care for any abnormalities.


There are multiple causes of urinary tract infections, the most common being introduction of Escherichia Coli (E. Coli) bacteria into the urethra. E. Coli lives in the large intestine and is a high risk for females because of the proximity of the urethra to the anus, and the short length of the urethra.

The placement of the urethra in relation to the vagina can also cause women to contract non-E.Coli related UTIs through sexual intercourse. UTIs can also stem from sexually transmitted diseases. In men, infection can spread when the urinary tract fails to eliminate bacteria from the body or E. Coli is introduced into the system.

Other medical conditions such as kidney stones, incontinence, and blockages in the urethra can lead to the build up and growth of bacteria in the urinary tract, which can cause infection. Once an infection has begun, it can easily spread up the urinary tract if left untreated, causing more complicated types of UTIs.

Diagnosis & Tests

There are several types of tests that can be used to diagnose urinary tract infections. The most common is collection of a urine sample. By examining the sample, medical professionals can do a count of red blood cells and white blood cells, and determine if there is any bacteria in the urethra.

Following the urine sample, some doctors will perform a bacteria culture, in which bacteria from the sample is grown and examined. This test is helpful in determining exactly what strain of bacteria is causing the problem and what the best treatment option is.

In more severe cases, a doctor may recommend an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI to examine the entire urinary tract and look for any abnormalities. A cystoscopy may also be used to get a detailed view of the urinary tract. During this procedure, a thin tube containing a small camera is inserted into the urethra and up into the bladder. These procedures or any combination of them can be used to best determine individual treatment options for a urinary tract infection.

Treatment & Therapy

For less severe infections, short-term antibiotics are usually prescribed for a few days to a week. It is important that the full course of antibiotics be taken in order to prevent further UTIs or mutation of bacteria. For patients who experience frequent UTIs, long-term antibiotics are usually prescribed at a low dosage for up to six months. Single-dosage antibiotics are also an option for those whose UTIs are related to sexual intercourse.

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe an analgesic to treat pain associated with the infection. These medications help with inflammation and work by numbing the bladder and urethra. For the most severe types of infection, intravenous antibiotics administered at a hospital are often necessary.

There are a few things patients can do to ease their pain and discomfort at home, such as drinking lots of water and using a heating pad. It's important to stick to clear liquids as many other drinks, such as coffee, alcohol, soft drinks, and many juices, can irritate the bladder and cause more frequent urination.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

There are many steps that can be taken to prevent the appearance or reoccurrence of urinary tract infections. The first is to drink plenty of fluids in order to encourage healthy urination which flushes out harmful bacteria. Water is the best choice, but some people find that the introduction of cranberry juice into their diet can help prevent UTIs.

Urination immediately following sexual intercourse can also help eliminate foreign bacteria from the body. There are several prevention methods specific to females, due to their higher risk factors. The most important is to practice wiping from front to back after urination and bowel movements to keep bacteria from the digestive system away from the urethra.

The prevention of risk factors exclusive to women relate to birth control methods and feminine product usage. It's recommended to stop usage of sprays, douches, and powders that can change the natural bacteria of the genital area and urethra. These products can both introduce harmful bacteria to the area, and kill off helpful bacteria that helps fight against infection. Diaphragms and spermicide-treated condoms, while effective, may encourage bacterial growth and therefore it might be helpful to consider switching to another form of birth control.