Urinary tract infections (UTI) occur when bacteria have a chance to multiply and attach to the mucous membrane of the bladder. The medical term is cystitis. When a urinary tract infection affects the upper urinary tract, kidneys and/or the kidney pelvic, the infection is usually referred to as pyelonephritis.
Like any other kind of infection, the longer it goes untreated, the more serious the complications can be. A symptomatic UTI that goes untreated can eventually lead to kidney damage.
Symptoms of a UTI
A urinary tract infection usually involves a change usual voiding pattern. Signs of a UTI include:
- Frequent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation when emptying bladder
- Blood in urine
- Cloudy, discoloured or smelly urine
- Lower back and abdominal pain
- Feel generally unwell
Most UTIs are due to a bacteria infection, such as from E.Coli, which is normally found in the gut.
Bacteria have something called “virulence factors” and this play a significant role in determining if the bacteria will invade the urinary tract and the level of infection.
Uropathogenic E. coli are present within the bowel and by expressing specific virulence factors that permit the bacteria to attach to the bladder surface and multiply in the lower urinary tract, they cause harm. Other common bacteria to cause UTIs are Klebsiella, Enterococcus faecalis and Proteus.
Anyone of any age, male or female could develop a UTI, but these risk factors can increase the chance of developing one:
- problems emptying the bladder completely
- having a urinary catheter
- hormonal changes
- increasing age
- heavy use of antibiotics, which can disrupt the natural flora of the bowel and urinary tract
- bowel incontinence
- blocked flow of urine
- procedures involving the urinary tract
- suppressed immune system
- Frequent sexual intercourse with multiple or new partners
- lack of oral fluids/poor hydration
- cross contamination
- poor personal hygiene
- kidney stones
- wearing incontinence pads
- immobility for a long period
- use of spermicides and tampons
People with supressed immunity, such as an autoimmune disease or diabetes are more susceptible to getting UTIs being less able to fight an infection.
Women are more likely to suffer a UTI than a man, due to the anatomical location of their urethral opening to the anus and a shorter urethra. Around half of women may well experience at least one UTI during their life.
Pregnant women are not more likely to develop a UTI than other women, but if one does occur, it is more likely to travel up to the kidneys. This is because hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy that affect the urinary tract.
If the UTI is symptomatic and most likely caused by bacteria, they are commonly treated with antibiotics.
The type of medication and length of treatment will depend on the symptoms and medical history of the individual.
The full course of treatment should always be completed for UTIs to make sure that the infection is fully clear, and to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance. UTI symptoms can disappear before the infection has completely gone.
Drinking lots of fluids and frequently urinating are always recommended for people who have UTIs as this helps to flush out the bacteria.