Urinary Tract Infection — Explained

Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a condition that affects both men and women in the world. It is an infection in one or more structures of the urinary tract. The urinary tract is made up of two kidneys, two ureters, a bladder, and urethra.

Kidneys are bean-shaped organs found in the lower back below the ribcage that filter waste out of the blood. As a result, they produce urine to carry the residual waste and excess water out of the body. Thus, urine flows from the kidneys passing through the ureters and into the bladder.

The urine gets stored for a short period of time, in the bladder, which is a hollow, muscular organ. As urine accumulates the bladder stretches and signals the body to relieve the growing pressure. A muscular valve at the opening of the bladder relaxes as the bladder contracts, and urine is passed through the urethra and out of the body.

UTIs are four times more common in women than in men because their urethra is shorter and the bacteria need to travel a shorter distance to reach their bladder. It’s unlikely for a man to get infected from having sex with a woman, because the infection is typically from bacteria that are already present in the man’s urinary tract.

The Types of UTI

UTI is oftentimes used as a blanket term, but a urinary tract infection may also be identified by a specific part of the urinary tract that is infected.

Urethritis: The urethra, which is the hollow tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body, gets infected

Cystitis: This can result from bacterial infection in the bladder that often has moved up from the urethra.

Pyelonephritis: It is an infection of the kidneys that is usually caused by an infection that has spread up the tract, or from a blockage in the urinary tract. A blockage in the urinary tract can cause urine to back flow into the ureters and kidneys.

Causes of UTI

The most common cause of UTIs are bacteria that enter the urethra and travel up the urinary tract.

  • Bacteria that normally live in the large intestine and are present in faeces (stool) are the primary source of infection.
  • Sexual intercourse might move bacteria upwards into the urinary tract. This happens mostly in women.
  • Catheters, which are small flexible tubes inserted into the bladder to drain out urine, have come across as a common source of infection in people who have undergone treatment in hospitals or who live in long-term care facilities.
  • Sometimes, bacteria that travel through the blood or lymph system may cause kidney or bladder infections.
  • The chances of contacting UTI increase in the case of a diabetic patient or a pregnant woman. The chance of getting a bladder infection is also higher if you have any problem that blocks the flow of urine from your bladder. Common examples include having kidney stones, a swollen prostate gland, or a structural problem in the urinary tract.
  • Women who have repeated UTIs may have inherited genes that make them more prone to get these infections.

Symptoms of UTI

One of the most common symptoms of a UTI is a frequent and urgent need to pee. You might feel like you need to pee all the time, even if you just went. Other UTI symptoms include:

  • pain or burning sensation when you urinate
  • foul-smelling or cloudy urine
  • presence of blood or pus in your urine
  • soreness, pain, pressure, or cramps in your lower belly, back, or sides

If the infection spreads to your kidneys, your UTI symptoms may also include:

  • pain and soreness of your mid-back (to the right or left of the spine)
  • fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, lethargy

If you see any of these symptoms, consult a doctor right away. Kidney infections are serious and need immediate treatment and medication.

However, it must be noted that these symptoms may not always be caused by a UTI. It may also indicate other infections, such as STDs or vaginitis, in the case of painful or frequent urination. Only a doctor or nurse can diagnose for sure if you have a UTI.

Treatment of UTI

A simple urine test can diagnose infection, and they’re most commonly treated with antibiotics. The type, dose, and length of your urinary tract infection treatment may vary based on what’s causing the infection and your medical history.

Most UTIs are easily treatable. Antibiotics prescribed by the doctor generally get rid of the infection. Sometimes over-the-counter pain medication is also prescribed to get rid of the pain.

Most antibiotics usually give quick and effective results — most symptoms go away within a day or 2 of taking the medication. But it is important to finish all of your medicine, even if your symptoms disappear early. If you stop your UTI treatment mid-way, the infection might still be there or could come back in the future.

If the symptoms don’t go away after a few days, or if they are very severe like a kidney or prostate infection, your doctor or nurse may prescribe more tests, different medicines and dosages, or refer you to a specialist.

Cranberries to prevent UTI — solution or myth?

Urologists have detected the presence of an active ingredient in cranberries that can prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall, particularly E. coli. But most of the studies have also shown that raw cranberry juice and supplements don’t have enough quantities of this active ingredient, A-type proanthocyanidins (PACs), to prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract.

Overall, clinical studies on the effectiveness of cranberry juices and extracts for the prevention of UTIs have been conflicting.

Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements, it is not known how much of the active ingredient each product contains, exactly. Therefore, it may happen that most of the products do not have enough of the active ingredient to be effective in preventing bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall.

The bottom line in this case would be that cranberries can’t hurt, and they may help. So it may be worth trying if you struggle with UTIs as the risk involved in doing so is very low.

Measures to prevent UTI

  • The simplest way to prevent UTI is to flush out urine from the bladder regularly, and for that, you need to always stay hydrated
  • Do not hold your pee for too long
  • Develop good bowel habits, as diarrhea or constipation may cause infection from the rectum to stray to the vagina
  • Wipe from front to back after urinating or excreting
  • Pee before and after sex
  • Shower instead of soaking in a bath, and avoid using oils
  • Avoid using spermicides or a diaphragm during sex
  • Wear cotton underwear and keep the genital area clean and dry
  • Sanitary pads and menstrual cups are a healthier alternative to tampons
  • Avoid using deodorant or perfumed products around the genital area
  • Sanitise the toilet seat before using a public restroom

It is best to take the above preventive measures, especially if you have been infected previously. Good hygiene and awareness about the disease is the first step towards keeping the infection at bay. Also, if you notice any symptoms, immediate consultation of the doctor will help treat the disease quickly and ensure that the condition does not get too severe.

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