What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

Urinary tract infections are common health issues that are usually easily treatable. A urinary tract infection, or UTI, can develop in either the upper or lower urinary tract. Most UTIs are in the form of bladder infections, which are in the lower urinary tract. Regular urination and lubricating substances lining the urinary tract are often enough to prevent infections from taking hold. When struck with the symptoms of a urinary infection, though, people should seek help immediately before the infection gets worse.

Causes of Urinary Tract Infections

Most UTIs occur when bacteria enters the urethra and manages to take hold within the urinary tract. Sexual activity is a leading cause of UTIs, and people need catheters also face heightened risks of developing urinary tract infections. Urinary tract infections are far more common in women than in men, because bacteria from the anus can easily enter the urethra through the vagina. The most common type of urinary infection is cystitis, which is when the infection occurs in the lining of the bladder. When diagnosed early, cystitis can usually be completely treated within a couple of weeks.

When lower UTIs aren't treated in a timely manner, then the infection could spread into the upper urinary tract. Upper UTIs are significantly more dangerous than lower UTIs because of the upper tract's proximity to the kidneys. If an upper urinary tract infection spreads into the kidneys, the result could be permanent kidney damage and a slew of potential health complications with kidney failure being a worst-case scenario. Upper urinary tract infections are often easy to diagnose because patients experience flu-like symptoms in addition to basic UTI symptoms. When diagnosing an upper or lower UTI, your doctor may administer a urine test, an intravenous urogram or a cystoscopy.

Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms

Symptoms of urinary tract infections are both uncomfortable and frustrating. Considering that most people have lower urinary tract infections, the most common UTI symptoms include frequent urination, incontinence or a persistent urge to urinate. In addition, abnormalities of the urine - such as how urine looks or smells - can also be signs of infection. For example, a person who has a bladder infection may notice that his or her urine seems cloudy, murky or foul-smelling. A urinary tract infection could also cause blood to appear in the urine, or the sufferer may experience pain in the pelvic or abdominal regions. Anyone who has blood in their urine should see a doctor immediately, as blood in the urine could be a sign of more significant health problems such as bladder or prostate cancer. People who have lower urinary tract infections may also experience pain while urinating, and they may feel generally under the weather.

Upper urinary tract infections can have all of the same symptoms of lower UTIs. However, upper UTIs have symptoms that don't occur with lower urinary tract infections. The most telling warning sign of an upper urinary tract infection is the onset of a fever along with the other symptoms of infections. Also, people who have upper UTIs may experience nausea and vomiting, which isn't a sign of lower UTIs. Diarrhea and irregular bowel movements may also result from upper UTIs, and people may feel chills and other flu-like symptoms. In addition to physical pain in the pelvic region in abdomen, pain may also develop in the lower back or along the sides. Most people who are properly treated for their lower urinary tract infections won't ever need to worry about upper UTIs. However, if an upper UTI does develop, then treatment becomes significantly more difficult.

Treatment for Urinary Tract Infections

How to treat a urinary tract infection depends mostly on whether the infection is in the upper or lower urinary tract. Most UTIs are in the form of bladder infections, which are located in the lower urinary tract. The first step toward treating a lower UTI is to diagnose the problem through a physical examination and the analysis of a urine sample. Usually, that will be enough to diagnose a bladder infection. However, if a person has a lower UTI that's not located within the bladder, then further tests may be needed to make a diagnosis. Further tests are also needed to test a suspected infection of the upper urinary tract. Tests needed for diagnosing an upper UTI may include CT scans or ultrasounds.

Once the UTI has been diagnosed, treatment usually starts with a course of antibiotics. Most lower urinary tract infections can be knocked out with one or two weeks of antibiotics. In some cases, additional antibiotics may be needed if symptoms begin recurring. Upper urinary tract infections require more advanced treatments; antibiotics and fluids must be administered intravenously to ensure the infection is cleared out. People who need treatment for upper UTIs may need to be hospitalized, and they may need to undergo monitoring for kidney functioning. Treatment is vital for pregnant women who are diagnosed with UTIs, as upper urinary tract infections could be harmful to fetuses. Talk to your doctor at the onset of UTI symptoms to increase your chances of successful treatment.

Pyelonephritis and UTI Complications

Pyelonephritis is the leading complication resulting from urinary tract infections. This condition is characterized by an upper UTI that spreads into the kidneys, creating the risk of permanent kidney damage, kidney failure or sepsis. Children and seniors are more prone to pyelonephritis, but the threat is real for anyone who isn't properly treated for the warning signs of UTIs. This can be problematic for elderly adults who may experience other bladder and prostate health symptoms that can mask the presence of urinary tract infections.

Also, people who suffer from several urinary tract infections may develop chronically occurring UTIs over the course of their lifetimes. Another complication is bacteremia, which is characterized by UTI-causing bacteria getting into the bloodstream. The presence of blood in the urine is a key warning sign of having a UTI that could lead to bacteremia. Talk to your doctor immediately if you have this symptom.