The urinary tract is the body’s drainage system for removing wastes and extra water. It includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria infect any part of the urinary tract.
Some people are more at risk of developing UTIs:
- Gender: Females are more at risk than males because of their anatomy. Their urethras are shorter and closer to their rectum, making it easier for bacteria to enter. According to the HSE, one woman in three will have a UTI before the age of 24, and half of all women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime.
- Sexual activity: Sexually active individuals are more at risk because of the potential for bacteria to pass during intercourse.
- Birth control: Women who use a diaphragm or spermicide as birth control are more at risk. Diaphragms push against the urethra, which makes it more difficult to empty your bladder and more likely that bacteria remain.
- Diabetes: The body is not as able to fight off germs if you have diabetes, putting you more at risk.
- Blockage in the urinary tract: Kidney stones or an enlarged prostate can trap urine in the bladder and increase the risk.
- Menopause: This can cause changes to the bacteria inside the vagina, increasing the risk of a UTI.
- Age: Older adults and younger children are more at risk.
- Poor hygiene: Children going through bathroom training may struggle with proper hygiene.
- Pregnancy: The uterus sits on top of the bladder, and as it grows during pregnancy, it can block the drainage of urine. This can cause an infection.
- Lack of fluids: If you don’t drink enough water, you may not urinate enough to flush bacteria from your system.
See your doctor if you are a high-risk individual or are experiencing symptoms.
Common symptoms of UTIs include:
- Strong urges to urinate
- Burning feeling during urination
- Cloudy or bright red urine
- Strong-smelling urine
- Pelvic or rectal pain
- Fever and nausea
Types of UTIs
There are four types of UTIs, depending on the area infected.
- Bladder infection (cystitis): This is the most common type of UTI. Symptoms include frequent urination, burning while urinating, urine that smells strong, cloudy or bloody urine, and lower abdominal pain.
- Kidney infection (Pyelonephritis): These usually begin in your bladder and travel up to your kidneys. Symptoms include frequent and painful urination, cloudy, bloody, dark, or bad-smelling urine, nausea and vomiting, chills, fever, and pain in your back, side, or groin.
- Urethritis: Inflammation of the urethra. Symptoms include frequent and painful urination, itch, and urethra discharge.
- Vaginitis: Inflammation or infection of the vagina. Symptoms include pain, itching, odour, redness, and vaginal discharge.
Ways to Help Prevent UTIs
- Urinate regularly and when the urge arises. Bacteria can grow when urine stays in the bladder too long.
- Drinking lots of fluid (water is best) to help flush bacteria out of the system.
- Urinate shortly after sex to help flush away bacteria.
- In women, wipe from front to back after using the toilet to prevent bacteria from entering the urethra.
- Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes so air can keep the urethra dry.
- Use lubricated condoms without spermicide or a non-spermicidal lubricant during sex. A diaphragm or spermicide for birth control can promote bacteria growth and lead to UTIs.
- Practise good hygiene by washing your genitals every day to prevent bacteria growth.
- Drink cranberry juice or use cranberry capsules.
- Take showers instead of baths.
- Limit the number of powders or sprays you use in your genital area.
Complications of UTIs
UTIs are common and treatable, but they can lead to other medical concerns:
- Repeat UTIs: Both men and women who have UTIs in the past run the risk of it developing again, especially if they don’t change their habits. Kidney damage: In rare cases, an untreated UTI can cause kidney damage, as can repeated kidney infections.
- Pregnancy risks: Premature births and low birth weights are among the complications pregnant women with UTIs can experience.
- Sepsis: An out-of-control release of chemicals by your body in an attempt to kill an infection, sepsis can cause organ damage and be life-threatening.
It’s important to seek treatment if you have a UTI or think you do.
Seeking treatment early is highly recommended as delayed diagnosis and treatment may lead to serious health risks.
Most UTIs can be treated with antibiotics and clear up within a few days to a few weeks. More severe infections may need further treatment. If think you have a UTI, contact one of the specialists at UPMC Whitfield Hospital or UPMC Kildare Hospital here.