Urinary tract infections are not uncommon, and any part of the urinary system can become infected.
The infection can affect the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. In most cases, a urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs in either the urethra or the bladder.
- Women tend to develop this infection more frequently than men do.
- However, anyone can be affected.
This type of infection results from bacteria getting into the urinary tract. The urinary system is generally effective in keeping bacteria out, but these defenses can sometimes fail. When the bacteria get in and take hold, the infection can occur. The two most common UTIs include urethritis and cystitis.
Urethritis can develop when gastrointestinal bacteria from the anus makes it way to the urethra. With cystitis, the gastrointestinal bacteria known as Escherichia coli is usually to blame. This type is also due to the bacteria coming from the anus and getting into the urethra. It then travels up into the bladder.
Not all patients experience symptoms when they have a UTI. However, the general symptoms may include:
- Persistent and strong urge to urinate
- Passing urine frequently, but in small amounts
- Abnormal urine color, such as bright pink, red or dark brown
- In women, pelvic pain is possible
- Burning with urination
- Cloudy urine
- Urine with a strong smell
If a UTI is either not treated at all or improperly treated, such as by not finishing the complete course of antibiotics, there is the risk for recurrent infections. This is more common in women and the symptoms are mostly the same as they are for an acute UTI.
Accurately diagnosing the infection and the bacteria that is present is important to ensure the proper treatment. A urine test to look for the presence of bacteria is often performed. The bacteria in the urine is then grown and analyzed in a lab to see which bacteria are present. Those who have recurring infections might need imaging of the urinary tract performed to determine if there is a urinary tract deformity present that is increasing the patient’s risk.
When the UTI is simple and acute, the antibiotic prescribed will be the one that targets the offending bacteria. The doctor will determine exactly how long a patient needs to take the medication and only one course is generally needed. If a patient is having pain, a medication to help to control it might also be recommended.
If a patient is developing UTIs frequently, more extensive treatment might be needed. Taking a low-dose antibiotic for an average of six months might be recommended. Some patients might also benefit from taking a single dose of an antibiotic following sexual intercourse as a preventative measure. In the most severe of cases, intravenous antibiotics might be needed to treat the infection.
Patients who experience a urinary tract infection should be educated about preventative measures to reduce their risk of recurrence. It should also be clear that the total antibiotic prescription should be taken, since stopping early may also increase the risk of recurrence.