Urinary tract infection

Overview

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common infection that can affect any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. When located in the bladder, this condition typically causes urinary frequency, urgency and pain with urination. If left untreated, it can spread to the kidneys. If you have a urinary tract infection, there is a reasonable chance that it will return. Prevention and early intervention are essential for receiving the best possible care.  

Causes and risk factors

Common types of UTIs usually affect the bladder and urethra. Common causes include:

  • An infection of the bladder due to bacteria, most commonly E. coli
  • An infection of the urethra due to gastrointestinal bacteria spreading from the anus to the urethra

 Common risk factors include:

  • A woman’s anatomy — The urethra is very close to the vagina and the rectum, which makes it vulnerable to infection
  • Previous urinary tract infections
  • Previous urologic surgery
  • Hygiene
  • Sexual activity
  • Indwelling foley catheter 

Types

The three types of UTIs include:

  • Urethritis — Infection of the urethra
  • Pyelonephritis — Infection of the kidneys
  • Cystitis — Infection of the bladder 

Symptoms

Common symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Increased frequency and urgency of urination
  • Burning pain during urination
  • Full-bladder feeling after urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Fever
  • Cloudy or reddish urine
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the back or sides
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Odorous urine 

Diagnosis and testing

In addition to a physical examination and a review of your medical history, testing procedures for a UTI include:

  • Urinalysis and urine culture — An examination of urine for numerous chemicals and cells, such as white blood cells, red blood cells, infection or excessive protein.
  • Imaging of the bladder, ureters and kidneys ­— Depending on risk factors, this may involve an ultrasound, X-ray or CT scan.
  • Cystoscopy — A cystoscopy is a diagnostic technique in which a tiny telescope is inserted through the urethra to visualize the bladder and urinary tract for obstructions, such as tumors or kidney stones.

Simple infections do not require a cystoscopy or diagnostic imaging; these exams are typically required for women who experience recurrent or complicated infections.

Treatment options

Urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will also walk you through the necessary steps to preventing a future infection. Some patients have recurrent urinary tract infections and require daily antibiotics. 

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