Urinary Tract Infection

What is a urinary tract infection?

Urinary tract infection is an infection of the urinary system which is caused by bacteria infecting any part of the urinary system, which includes the urethra (the tube between the bladder and the skin), the bladder, ureters (tubes between the kidneys and the bladder) and the kidneys. Infection of the bladder is called cystitis. Infection of the kidneys is called pyelonephritis. The infection is non-transmittable. It usually develops when bacteria from the bowel or the genital region ascend through the urethra to the bladder or kidney. Symptoms include fever, pain in the lower abdomen, frequent urination in small portions and an odd smell to the urine. With antibiotic treatment, most people recover quickly.

Risks

Women are more prone to infection since their urethra (the tube between the bladder and the skin) is shorter. Post-menopausal women may be more susceptible than pre-menopausal women to this condition. Any obstruction that impairs urine flow increases the risk for urinary tract infection, for example, prostate enlargement or kidney stones. Other risk factors include a weakened immune system, pregnancy, the use of urinary catheters and diabetes.

Symptoms

Lower urinary tract infection affects the urinary bladder and produces symptoms such as painful and frequent urination, pain low in the belly or and strong-smelling urine that is sometimes bloody or cloudy. Other symptoms may be fever, chills and generally feeling ill. Flank or back pain can be a sign that the infection has spread to the kidneys (pyelonephritis).

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is based on the symptoms and clinical examination and completed by analysis of the urine, testing for blood and pus. It may be necessary to send the urine to a lab to diagnose the specific bacteria causing the infection. It may also be necessary to have an ultrasound scan of the bladder and kidneys if a person suffers recurrent urinary tract infections.

Treatment

Urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics. Staying well hydrated is helpful to flush bacteria from the bladder. Bed rest is recommended in cases of pyelonephritis. If the underlying cause is a malformation of the urinary tract or bladder obstruction, further therapy is needed.

Prevention

Keeping the area of the urinary meatus (where urine exits the body) clean helps to prevent urinary tract infections. Avoiding contraceptive methods that contain spermicide may be useful in avoiding urinary tract infections. Emptying the bladder after sexual intercourse may help prevent infections in women. In some cases of recurrent urinary tract infection, antibiotic prophylaxis must be considered.