A urinary tract infection or UTI refers to an infection in any part of the urinary system, including the bladder, kidneys, ureters and urethra. Doctors and urologists may further subdivide UTIs into upper and lower urinary tract infections. Upper infections are located in the kidneys while lower UTIs are located in the bladder and urethra. Most people suffer from lower UTIs.
Women are far more prone to getting urinary tract infections simply because their urethras are smaller but wider than a man's. Germs or bacteria have more chance of entering the woman's body and then traveling to the bladder and kidneys. In contrast, germs and bacteria tend to stay in a man's urethra.
Normally, the urinary tract can successfully kill off any invading bacteria or other microorganisms but sometimes the defenses fail. But how do bacteria get into the urethra in the first place? By a variety of methods, including:
Sexual contact with a partner suffering from a UTI
Using catheters - even one-use-only catheters
Using a diaphragm, intra-uterine device (IUD) or another contraceptive that needs to be inserted into the woman in order to work
Being born with a defect of the urinary tract
Any disease that reduces the body's natural immune system, such as AIDS
Any medication that reduces the body's natural immune system, such as corticosteroids
Infrequent washing of the genitals
Accidentally getting fecal material onto the vagina or penis. This is thought to be the most common way of contracting a urinary tract infection.
Common symptoms include:
Severe, sudden, burning pain in the genitals when urinating. This pain can be so bad that it can bring tears to the eyes or make a patient break out into a sweat.
Increased need to urinate
Trouble urinating more than a little bit at a time
Foul-smelling or very strong-smelling urine - even a few drops can stink
Aching pain under the ribs towards the spine, where the kidneys are
Abdominal pain or tenderness, which makes wearing skirts, pants or underpants painful.
Fever which may or may not include sweating and chills
Nausea with or without vomiting.
The good news about urinary tract infections is that they usually respond well to treatment, as long as they are caught early. Lower UTIs in particular can degenerate into dangerous kidney infections if there is a delay in treatment.
Patients are urged to drink more water and cranberry juice to make urinating less painful and to prevent future infections.
Menopausal or post-menopausal women prone to chronic urinary tract infections may be placed on estrogen replacement hormones.
Any patient suffering from a UTI should refrain from having sex until the infection goes away.