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What is the Urinary Tract?

The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, the bladder and urethra. Ureters connect the kidneys to the bladder, while the urethra is the tube through which urine exits the bladder.

What are Urinary Tract Infections?

Urinary tract infections can affect any part of the urinary tract. If the infection occurs in the urethra it is called urethritis, if the infection occurs in the bladder it is called cystitis. If the infection occurs in the kidneys, it is called pyelonephritis.

Urinary tract infections are the second most common type of infections in the human body.

They are usually caused by bacteria, but urinary infections can also be caused by viruses or fungi.

What causes a Urinary Tract Infection?

It is known that urinary tract infections are more common in women than in men, because women have a shorter urethra. This makes it easier for the bacteria to enter the urinary tract.

Any obstruction (like kidney stones, enlarged prostate, some types of cancer, and others) that reduces the elimination of urine from the body can cause a urinary infection.

Personal hygiene also plays an important role. Wiping from back to front is a known trigger for urinary infections, because this drags bacteria from the anal region to the urethra.

The use of spermicides, condoms, diaphragms, or any other contraceptive method can cause a urinary infection. Usually they irritate the skin, making it easier for the bacteria to enter the urinary tract.

Sexual activity is a known contributor to urinary infections. Most women have bacteria in their urine after intercourse, but these are usually expelled within 24 hours. It is very important to pee immediately after sexual intercourse, because this will help reduce the amount of the bacteria that may have entered in the urinary tract during intercourse.

Prolonged use of catheters (a catheter is a tube that is inserted into your bladder to help drain urine, when for any reason this cannot be done naturally) is a risk factor for urinary tract infections. Catheters make it easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract. Removal of the catheter will probably be required.

Signs and symptoms of a urinary infection

Symptoms of a urinary infection vary. They depend on how severe the infection is and which part of the urinary tract is infected - the lower or the upper part of the urinary tract.

Infections of the urethra and the bladder are usually not serious, while infections of the kidneys can be life threatening.

Lower urinary tract infections (urethra, bladder) are characterized by:

  • Frequent urination
  • A burning sensation while urinating
  • Painful urination
  • Cloudy urine
  • Bloody urine
  • Strong odor
  • Pelvic or rectal pain

Upper urinary tract infections (kidneys) are characterized by:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Pain and tenderness in the upper back side.

How are urinary tract infections diagnosed?

If you have any of the signs mentioned above, you should seek medical help.

Pregnant women should be very careful, because it is known that urinary tract infections during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery and high blood pressure.

The patient's medical history and a physical checkup may suggest a urinary infection, but a lab analysis of the urine and urinoculture are needed to make the proper diagnosis. Some other examinations that your doctor will order depending on your symptoms:

  • Ultrasound of the bladder and kidneys
  • Cystoscopy
  • Intravenous pyelogram

How are urinary tract infections treated?

Treatment of the urinary tract infections typically requires antibiotics. For lower urinary tract infections antibiotics are administrated orally, while upper urinary tract infections require intravenous therapy with antibiotics.

Consuming a lot of water daily, not holding back your urine, urinating immediately after sexual intercourse, good personal hygiene, wiping from front to back and comfortable underwear can help prevent a urinary tract infection.

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