Urinary tract infections, also known as UTIs, are among the most common of all health problems, but many find people find talking about them to be embarrassing. It's not unusual for people who have some kind of urethral itching to look for answers online rather than from their doctors. Frankly, I wouldn't be writing about this topic, either, except people need the information, and it's my job. However, there is a simple way to determine whether urethral itching is a UTI or something else. If it's just a passing irritant, the itching will go away in a day or two. If it is a UTI, and usually it is a UTI, there are a variety of other symptoms to deal with.
Different kinds of infectious microorganisms cause different symptoms in the urinary tract.
- E. coli is the most common cause of UTIs. It gets into the urinary tract from the anus. The colon contains tens of trillions of bacteria, some of the helpful, or probiotic, and some them disease-causing, or pathogenic. E. coli is pathogenic. It is usually held in check by probiotic bacteria, but when it gets into the urinary tract, after bowel movement, it can multiply much more easily because there are fewer probiotic bacteria to stop it. Women are more likely to get this kind of UTI infection because the distance from the anus to the opening of the urinary tract is shorter than in men. Symptoms of E. coli infection usually start with itching on the "front side," but there may have recently been watery, non-bloody diarrhea that caused the splash. As this infection progresses, it can cause either frequent urination with itchiness afteward, or dysuria, infrequent urination, usually with burning. In men, the infection can spread to the prostate. When this happens, symptoms typically include lower back pain and erectile dysfunction. In both men and women, the infection can spread to the kidneys and even to the lungs. When this happens, there is usually high fever, difficulty breathing, and joint pain all over the body.
- Yeast infections (candidiases) are the second most common cause of UTIs. They are also more common in women than in men. In women, they cause redness and itching of the vagina. In men, they cause white blotches that heal to reddened areas of skin on the penis (balanitis). Yeast infections can spread to other parts of the body, notably the corners of the mouth (chelitis). Yeast infections are spread by vaginal and oral sexual intercourse.
- UTIs during pregnancy are common because the pressure on the abdomen shortens the already-short urethra. Bacteria are easily transferred during personal hygiene after defecation. In pregnancy, a UTI typically causes itching, burning after urination, excessive urination (a symptom the doctor may ignore because it's common in pregnancy without a UTI), When the infection progresses to the point that its symptoms include flank pain (usually worse on the right side), vomiting, and fever, there is a medical emergency. Any UTI in pregnancy needs medical treatment because of increased risk of premature delivery, Caesarean section, and preeclampsia.
- UTIs in men present some of the same symtoms as enlarged prostate. In a man, it's more likely to be a urinary tract infection if the symptoms include either frequent urination or no urination at all, and urgent urination. It's more likely to be a prostate problem, not necessarily an infection, if the symptoms include dribbling, slow stream, and hesitancy.
- Diabetics of both sexes tend to get more UTIs that are caused by more different kinds of microorganisms. They get the same symptoms, but more severe symptoms, and more involvement of organs outside the urinary tract.
See your doctor about medications (usually antifungals or antibiotics). In the meantime, drink more water, drink unsweetened cranberry or blueberry juice (which make it harder for yeast and bacteria to "root" in the lining of the urinary tract), and avoid sugar (which feeds yeast).
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