Urinary tract infections are a serious health problem affecting millions of people each year.
The "urinary tract" consists of the various organs of the body that produce, store, and get rid of
urine. These include the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder, and the urethra. Any part of the
urinary system can become infected, but most infections involve the lower urinary tract - the
urethra and the bladder. Women are at greater risk of developing a urinary tract infection. UTI
limited to bladder can be painful and annoying. The most serious consequences can occur if
a urinary tract infection spreads to the kidneys.
In general the urine is sterile. It is usually free of bacteria, viruses, and fungi but does contain
fluids, salts, and waste products. An infection occurs when bacteria cling to the opening of the
urethra and begin to multiply. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to
outside the body. Most infections arise from one type of bacteria, Escherichia coli (E. coli),
which normally lives in the colon.
In many cases, bacteria first travel to the urethra - when bacteria multiply - the infection can
occur. If infection limited to the urethra is called urethritis. If bacteria move to the bladder and
multiply (bladder infection) - it called cystitis. If the infection is not treated promptly and
properly - bacteria can travel further up the ureters to multiply and infect the kidneys. A kidney
infection is called pyelonephritis.
Microorganisms called Chlamydia and Mycoplasma may also cause UTI. Unlike E. coli,
Chlamydia and Mycoplasma may be sexually transmitted, and infections require treatment of
In general, UTI signs and symptoms develop pretty fast and can include:
• A strong, persistent urge to urinate
• A burning sensation when urinating
• Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
• Blood in the urine (hematuria) or cloudy, strong-smelling urine
• Bacteria in the urine (bacteriuria)
Different parts of the urinary tract system can develop specific symptoms if infection appears:
If infection attacks the urethra (urethritis), the most common symptom is burning during
urination. If infection enters to the bladder (cystitis), symptoms include pelvic pressure, lower
abdomen discomfort and frequent, painful urination. If infection reach the kidneys (acute pyelonephritis), symptoms include upper back and side (flank) pain, high fever, shaking and
chills and nausea.
How UTI starts
In general the urinary tract can be infected from “above/up” (by bacteria entering the kidneys
from the bloodstream and travelling downward) or from “below/down” (by bacteria entering the
urethra and travelling upward).
In most cases the infection starts from “below-down”. Girls could become prone to UTI's
through wiping back-to-front when they are first toilet-trained, which pulls stool into the vaginal
area. Sexually active teenage and adult women are more prone to UTI's because of friction at
the meatus, which tends to push bacteria into the urethra (urinating after intercourse helps
Infection from “above/up” can be observed in newborns - if there are many bacteria in the
bloodstream. This is especially likely if the kidney filters are immature, or if there are a lot of
Who is at risk for UTI?
Some people are more prone to getting a UTI than others. Any abnormality of the urinary tract
that obstructs the flow of urine (a kidney stone, for example) sets the stage for an infection.
Many women start suffering from UTI after intercourse. The most common is after first time
sex. Sexual intercourse seems to trigger an infection, although the reasons for this linkage are
unclear. One factor may be that a woman's urethra is short, allowing bacteria quick access to
the bladder. Also, a woman's urethral opening is near sources of bacteria from the anus and
In adult women, though, the rate of UTIs gradually increases with age.
A common source of infection is catheters, or tubes, placed in the urethra and bladder. In
most cases catheters and tubes are used in hospitals (medical conditions).
People with diabetes have a higher risk of a UTI because of changes in the immune system.
Any other disorder that suppresses the immune system raises the risk of a urinary infection.
UTI treatment should be done by health providers (preferably by qualified doctors). Antibiotics
are the typical treatment for UTI. Often, a UTI can be cured with 1 or 2 days of treatment if the
infection is not complicated by an obstruction or other disorder. Still, many doctors ask their
patients to take antibiotics for a week or two to ensure that the infection has been cured.
Longer treatment is also needed by patients with infections caused by Mycoplasma or
Many women suffer from frequent UTIs. Some women have UTI chronically - women who have
had UTI about 3-4 times are on the risk to have it more. Four out of five such women get
another within 18 months of the last UTI. Many women have them even more often.
Nearly 20 percent of women who have a UTI will have another one and 30 percent of those will
have yet another. Of the last group, 80 percent will have recurrences.
How avoid the UTI
• Drink plenty of water every day.
• Urinate when you feel the need;
don't resist the urge to urinate.
• Wipe from front to back to prevent
bacteria around the anus from
entering the vagina or urethra.
• Take showers instead of tub baths.
• Cleanse the genital area before
• Avoid using feminine hygiene
sprays and scented douches, which may irritate the urethra.
• Drink cranberry juice.