Symptoms and Causes of Urinary Tract Infections

Just as the name indicates, urinary tract infections or uti's are infections anywhere in the urethra, bladder, ureters, or kidneys. The severity can range from not noticeable to life threatening. The most common areas affected are the urethra and bladder, and more often in women than men.

Some of the potentially noticeable signs of urinary tract infections include a burning sensation during urination or blood in the urine. Other obvious symptoms include a persistent urge to urinate, difficulty producing normal amounts, or even an odd odor to the output. Unfortunately, these are easy to confuse with many other medical problems. Signs that are more definitive include bacteria in the urine, but detecting that requires medical tests.

Cystitis, a type lower urinary tract infection, more often shows up as increased pelvic pressure and discomfort in the lower abdomen. Sometimes a low-grade fever accompanies the condition. Painful urination is possible, too. The latter is more common with infections of the urethra.

Kidney infections, known as pyelonephritis, are typically more serious. They may produce upper back and side pain along with high fever. Shaking and chills is a common sign. Nausea and vomiting are usual symptoms.

Causes of Urinary Tract Infections

The underlying cause of any of these urinary tract infections is generally bacteria, in amounts the immune system cannot immediately combat. The bacteria may start within the body or result from invasion from outside. The organisms sometimes enter through the urethra and multiply in the bladder.

Cystitis is typically caused by E. coli, which are a common, and usually benign, bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract.

Why are Urinary Tract Infections More Common in Females than in Males

One reason women are more susceptible to urinary tract infections is the combination of the closeness of the anus to their more accessible urethra, and the shorter distance between its tip and the bladder.

In women, the urethra is about one and a half inch long, while in men it is closer to five to seven inches. Bacteria commonly inhabit feces and organisms can migrate from one place to another, especially through incorrect cleansing habits.

Despite common belief, urine is not inherently a good medium for bacterial growth. Unmixed urine is sterile. However, outside the body, it can mix with air, bacteria-laden water or underwear, and on occasion, bathroom surfaces.

Intercourse is another common transmission route for urinary tract infections, particularly in women. Sexual activity encourages germs to travel through the urethra.

Certain forms of birth control may also increase the odds of infection, if they are not employed properly. A diaphragm, for example, may become unsterile if left out and not cleaned correctly. Some feminine care products may increase the odds, since they can irritate the urethra.

Age and illnesses (such as diabetes) affect the odds, as well. Both can weaken the immune system.

Pyelonephritis, which are kidney infections, are more likely when cystitis is left untreated for too long, since the bacteria can migrate up the urinary tract. Diagnosis and treatment of this more serious form requires the immediate attention of a medical professional.

Page Updated: November 12, 2016
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