Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

The urinary tract includes:
  • The kidneys, which make urine
  • Tubes called ureters that carry urine to the bladder where it is stored
  • The urethra, a short, narrow tube that urine passes through on its way out of the body

The urinary tract in women has a lower part and an upper part. The lower urinary tract is made up of the urethra and the bladder. Most infections occur in the lower urinary tract where it is easy for bacteria to enter. The upper urinary tract consists of the kidneys and ureters. An infection in the upper tract may cause a more severe illness.

Types of Urinary Tract Infections

Most UTI’s start in the lower urinary tract. Bacteria can enter through the urethra and spread upward to the bladder. This causes cystitis, a bladder infection. In most cases, urethritis, infection of the urethra, occurs at the same time.
Bacteria that have infected the bladder may travel up the ureters to the kidneys. This may cause pyelonephritis, a kidney infection.


Urinary tract infections often are caused by bacteria from the bowel that live on the skin near the rectum or in the vagina. These bacteria can spread and enter the urinary tract through the urethra. They then travel up the urethra, where they can cause infections in the bladder and, sometimes, in other parts of the urinary tract.

Sex is one of the causes of UTIs. Because of their anatomy, women are prone to UTI’s after having sex. In front of the vagina is the opening of the urethra. During sex, bacteria in the vaginal area could be massaged into the urethra by the back and forth motion of the penis.
Urinary tract infections also tend to occur in women who change sexual partners or begin having sex more often. Some women get an infection each time they have sex, although this is rare.

Waiting too long to urinate can also result in UTIs. The bladder is a muscle that stretches to hold the urine and contracts to expel it. If you go for hours without urinating, the bladder muscle is stretched too much.

Other facts that increase chances for UTIs:
  • Being pregnant
  • History of UTIs as a child
  • Being postmenopausal
  • Having diabetes


Symptoms of UTIs can come on quickly:
  • A strong urge to urinate (urgency)
  • Sharp pain or burning (dysuria) while urinating
  • Urine tinged with blood, or cloudy
  • Need to urinate returns minutes later (frequency)
  • Soreness in lower abdomen, back, or in the sides

If bacteria enters the ureters and spread to the kidneys, symptoms also may include:
  • Back pain
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting


Urinary tract infections are diagnosed on the basis of the number of bacteria and white blood cells found in the urine sample. To detect the presence of bacteria and white blood cells, a sample of your urine will be studied under a microscope. It also will be cultured in a substance that promotes the growth of bacteria. A pelvic exam may be needed as well.


Antibiotics are used to treat UTIs, and are taken anywhere from 3-10 days. Some infections only require a single dose of antibiotics.

Be sure to take all of the medication you are given even if your symptoms go away before you finish your prescription. If you stop treatment early, the infection may still be present or it could come back after a short time. About a week after you finish treatment, another urine test may be done to see whether the infection is cured.

How can you prevent a UTI?
  • Practice good hygiene
          -After a bowel movement or after urinating, wipe from front to back. Each day, wash the skin around the rectum, vagina, and the area in between. Before and after sex, wash these areas again.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to flush bacteria out of your urinary tract
  • Empty your bladder as soon as you feel the urge or every 2-3 hours
  • Drink cranberry juice or eat blueberries to help prevent the growth of bacteria
  • Wear underwear with a cotton crotch
  • During sex, you may want to try different positions that cause less friction to your urethra. Your doctor may suggest taking an antibiotic pill right after sex if you tend to have repeated UTIs

Finally, UTIs are common and painful. If you have symptoms of a UTI, see your doctor right away. With prompt, proper treatment, these infections can be treated with success.

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