Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are infections of any part of the urinary system, such as kidneys, bladder, ureters and urethra. UTIs typically occur when bacteria access the urinary tract via the urethra and start to multiply in the bladder. While the urinary system is equipped to keep out the bacteria, the system’s defenses may sometimes fail and allow bacteria to take hold and multiply, resulting in a full-blown urinary tract infection. Abnormalities in the urinary tract that interfere with drainage of urine (such as enlarged prostate or kidney stones), foreign bodies in the bladder (such as tubes and catheters), diabetes, and immune-suppressing drugs and disorders increase the risk of urinary tract infections.
How common are urinary tract infections?
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common bacterial infections in humans. In the United States, over 8.6 million hospital visits and more than 1 million hospital admissions are due to these infections. Women are at higher risk of having a UTI than men and account for more than 84 percent of all UTIs annually. In fact, every woman has over a 50 percent chance of developing at least one UTI in her lifetime, with the risk of recurrent UTI increasing significantly with each infection. Women have greater risk of getting UTIs because the urethra is shorter in women than in men, allowing bacteria to enter the bladder more easily and multiply. Sexually active women also have higher risk of UTI because anything placed inside the vagina increases the risk of infection.
5 most common signs of urinary tract infection
Urinary tract infections are easy to treat when detected early, but untreated or undiagnosed UTI may lead to kidney damage. To help detect UTIs and seek early treatment, it is important to familiarize yourself with their most common signs.
Often, the most frequent sign of a urinary tract infection is a noticeable change in urination, such as frequent urination, burning sensation when passing urine or strong-smelling urine.
The most common signs of a UTI include:
- Change in urine color
Normal urine is clear and pale yellow in color. But when having a urinary tract infection, the urine may appear cloudy, red, cola-colored, bright pink or just darkened. When you see these changes, you should suspect a urinary tract infection and visit your urologist immediately for help.
- Strong-smelling urine
Urine has its characteristic smell, but when you have a urinary tract infection the smell may be unusually strong. Make sure to speak with your doctor if your urine smells stronger than usual.
- Abdominal or back pain
Along with a burning sensation when urinating, urinary tract infections may cause abdominal or pelvic pain, particularly around the pubic bone and in the center of the pelvis. Abdominal, upper back and flank (side) back pain also can indicate infection of the kidney. Speak with your urologist about the pain as soon as possible.
- Fever and chills
In some cases, a urinary tract infection may cause a fever and chills. For instance, when having a catheter, fever may be the only sign of infection, but when the fever increases and is accompanied by fatigue, chills or mental problems, then a severe kidney infection may be suspected. Visit your doctor immediately if you experience these symptoms.
- Nausea and vomiting
Because the urinary tract is closely associated with the digestive system, a urinary tract infection may cause nausea and vomiting. Make sure to talk to your doctor immediately, especially if the nausea and vomiting is accompanied by other UTI symptoms.Urinary tract infections cause relatively little harm, but they can be dangerous when left untreated. If you are diagnosed with an infection, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics taken for 2-3 days. Severe infections may require longer treatment, but antibiotics resolve most cases of UTIs.
It is also important to take steps to prevent or reduce the risk of UTI. The steps include:
- Drinking plenty of water daily.
- Using underwear made of absorbent cotton.
- Wiping from the front to the back.
- Urinating immediately after sexual intercourse.
- Avoiding birth control or feminine products that are inserted into the vagina.
When you have to use such inserts, wash your hands and the vaginal area thoroughly before inserting a device.
Work closely with your urologist to prevent complications that may be caused by urinary tract infections. Remember doctors can help by prescribing appropriate antibiotics, but you also can take steps to prevent UTIs in the first place.