Bacteria enter the human body in many ways. A healthy human body has several lines of defense against a bacterial attack, but it sometimes loses the battle. When bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra, settle into the bladder, and begin to flourish, this is known as a urinary tract infection or, more commonly, a UTI.
No matter where or when a UTI occurs there will be irritation and pain involved. A visit to a physician is required to relieve both the infection and the pain.
What are the symptoms of a UTI?
Be ready to get an appointment with a doctor if the following occur. Waiting too long for treatment will exacerbate the problem by causing the infection to spread and adding more pain.
- A constant urgent need to urinate
- Burning sensations while urinating
- A more frequent desire to urinate, but producing less urine
- Urine is cloudy or white announcing pus is involved
- Pink, red, or darkened urine (blood)
- A strong, unusual odor
- Pain in the pelvis
- Fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting in more advanced cases
It is possible to have a urinary tract infection without exhibiting any symptoms. This condition is known as asymptomatic bacteriuria. This type of infection can eventually progress into one that brings forth symptoms, but more than likely it will cure itself with no treatment necessary.
Other conditions, namely vaginal infections or irritable bladder can mimic the symptoms of a UTI. For that reason, a quick visit to a doctor is needed to determine what the infection is and how to treat it.
Who is at risk for UTIs?
Anyone can suffer from a urinary tract infection. However, differing lifestyles make some people more susceptible to becoming infected. Women are especially vulnerable due to their anatomy, special needs, and ability to carry a child within their bodies.
Risk factors include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Urinary tract abnormalities
- Blockages (kidney stones, enlarged prostate)
- Certain types of birth control (spermicides, diaphragms)
- Antibiotics used for other illness
- The use of catheters
- A suppressed immune system
- Sexual activity (frequent or with multiple partners)
- Undergoing a urinary procedure (scope, surgery)
- Lack of proper cleanliness
- The use of feminine hygiene deodorant sprays, powders, douches, and tampons
- Menopause (less estrogen circulating to prevent infection)
Prevention of UTIs
The list is lengthy, but precautions can be taken. Drinking lots of fluid, mostly water, can flush out bacteria before they settle in to grow. Emptying the bladder more often and completely lessens the chances of bacterial growth. Females should be careful to wipe from front to back, which keeps bacteria from reaching the urethra. A woman's urethra is shorter than a male's which gives bacteria a shorter distance to travel. Use sanitary pads instead of tampons. Cotton underwear is better than nylon. Be sure to urinate shortly after a sexual encounter. It also helps to shower instead of taking baths. Cleanliness is the best defense.
Types of UTIs
Urinary tract infections can be placed into three basic categories. As the infection progresses deeper into the body the seriousness rises. Each stage calls for more aggressive treatment, so it is best to catch the UTI at its earliest stage.
Stage One: Urethritis
In the beginning the UTI is confined to the urethra. This is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. This infection often goes unnoticed and disappears on its own. If there are symptoms (burning upon urination, a constant urge to empty your bladder, etc.) antibiotics, fluids and cleanliness are all that is required to eradicate the bacteria.
Stage Two: Cystitis
Once the bacteria has spread past the urethra and into the bladder the infection is called cystitis. During this stage the symptoms can include burning upon urination, the constant and immediate desire to urinate, cloudy urine, unpleasant odor, pressure or cramping in the lower back, and a low-grade fever.
For this stage antibiotics are definitely called for. The strength of antibiotic necessary will depend on severity of the infection, age and overall health of the patient, as well as whether the infections are recurring. The individual can aid in their recovery with simple home treatments. Take the antibiotic as prescribed, drink lots of fluid, and urinate frequently making sure to empty the bladder completely every time.
These UTIs can be cleared quickly, usually within three days.
Stage Three: Pyelonephritis
At this point the bacteria has reached the kidneys. Oral antibiotics in a higher strength can suffice. However, there may be times when the patient is too ill or nauseated to tolerate oral medication. Intravenous antibiotics may be the best bet. If so, then a short hospital stay may be necessary.
During this stage the symptoms become far more painful. Added to the burning sensation and frequent need to urinate are chills, shaking, high fever, upper back pain, and fatigue. If these symptoms have a sudden onset or the patients starts to experience mental changes then this is a medical emergency! Get help immediately.
To ease the pain and burning a patient may use an over the counter medication known as phenazopyridine. This is not an antibiotic. It will not eradicate (cure) the infection. It is only meant to lessen the discomfort until the UTI is cleared. Nothing takes the place of a doctor prescribed antibiotic.
Patients must understand that if the UTI reaches this stage the treatment will be extended to a longer period of time. This is usually between seven and fourteen days. All the antibiotics must be taken to prevent reoccurrence. Stopping them too soon may leave a small, undetectable number of bacteria to regrow.