What is a urinary tract infection?
The urinary tract includes kidneys, bladder and the tubes (ureters) and urethra that link these two. The tract separates waste products from body fluids and removes them from the body in form of urine. An infection of the urinary tract can occur in any part of the tract, and is classified into different types based on the location and symptoms:
- Acute pyelonephritis (in kidneys)
- Cystitis (in bladder)
- Urethritis (in urethra)
- Ureteritis (in ureter)
What are the causes of the disorder?
Under normal circumstances, the urinary system is able to fend off micro-organisms, but sometimes bacteria are able to enter the urinary tract and multiply to cause infection. Women are more prone to UTIs than men and the most common areas of infection for them are the bladder and urethra.
Let’s take a look at the causal agents of different UTIs:
- Cystitis – The bladder is usually infected by Escherichia coli (E. coli), a common bacterium found in the GI tract. Sexual activity may also increase the chances of cystitis. The distance between urethral opening and anus and further into the bladder in women is small, making them more prone to the infection.
- Urethritis – Again, female anatomy makes it easier for GI bacteria and sexually transmitted agents like Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and Herpes to enter the urethra.
Who is at risk of developing urinary tract infection?
The following factors increase the risk of a UTI:
- Kidney stones that block the tract.
- Inability to empty the bladder, causing bacteria to grow.
- Weakened immune system.
- A urinary catheter, diaphragm (in women).
- Enlarged prostrate gland in men that prevents emptying of bladder.
- The short distance between anus and urethra and short urinary tract in women.
What one needs to know about symptoms or signs?
Symptoms of UTI include:
- Strong urge to urinate, but passing only few drops every time
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Cloudy urine
- Sign of blood in urine
- Urine with strong smell
- Pain in men (rectal) and women (pelvic)
Which specialist should be consulted in case of signs and symptoms?
A urologist should be consulted in case of men and an urogynaecologist in case of women.
What are the screening tests and investigations done to confirm or rule out the disorder?
A urinary infection may be diagnosed in the following ways:
- Urine sample analysis – Lab tests look for red blood cells, white blood cells and bacteria. Urine sample may be used to grow a cluture in the lab to help identify the bacteria causing the infection.
- Imaging tests – If frequent infections cause the doctor to suspect any abnormality in the tract, an ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan may be suggested. Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) creates images from x-ray using a contrast dye, but is not prefered.
- Cystoscopy – In case of recurrent UTIs, a thin, long tube with a lens (cystoscope) is inserted in the urethra to reach the bladder and view internally.
What treatment modalities are available for management of the disorder?
- In most cases, an infection of the urinary tract clears up in a few days once treatment commences.
- A two-three day or a week-long dose of antibiotics is prescribed for UTIs depending on the severity.
- Analgesics help in relieving the burning sensation during urination by numbing the urethra and the bladder.
How can the disorder be prevented from happening or recurring?
The risk of UTIs can be reduced by:
- Drinking plenty of water daily
- Wiping front to back after urinating or bowel movement to prevent bacteria in the anal area from reaching urethra
- Emptying bladder after intercourse to flush out bacteria
Image courtesy of [rajcreationzs] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“Urinary tract infection (UTI)” MayoClinic.com, Mayo Clinic Staff, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/basics/symptoms/con-20037892
“Urinary Tract Infections in Teens and Adults,” WebMD.com, http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/urinary-tract-infections-in-teens-and-adults-topic-overview
“Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)” MedicineNet.com, Jerry R. Balentine, http://www.medicinenet.com/urinary_tract_infection/article.htm
“Urinary tract infections in adults,” NHS.uk, http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Urinary-tract-infection-adults/Pages/Introduction.aspx