Definition and Overview
A urinary tract infection is an infection that attacks the bladder and, if left untreated, can also attack the kidneys. Most cases of urinary tract infections only affect the bladder; these are not serious but need to be treated immediately to keep them from spreading to the kidneys. Once kidney infection sets in, however, it can cause permanent damage.
The primary cause of infections in the urinary tract is germs that enter the urinary tract, which is the system that produces urine and removes it from your body. The urinary tract plays a very important role in cleansing the body of unnecessary wastes. However, the system, which includes the kidneys, the bladder, and the tubes connecting them, is vulnerable to germs that may enter it through the urethra, the tube where urine goes through on its way out of the body.
Due to their shorter urethra, women are more susceptible to bladder infections compared to men; this makes it easy for germs, which live in the large intestine, to move towards the bladders. A woman who has had an infection in the urinary tract has a greater chance of getting it again. One way of spreading the germs toward the urethra is through sexual intercourse.
There are certain risk factors that increase a person’s vulnerability to urinary tract infections. These include:
Urinary tract infections often cause several obvious symptoms, making them easy to detect and diagnose. These symptoms include:
- Painful urination
- A burning sensation during urination
- Urinating often but with very little urine coming out each time
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Cloudy, pinkish, or red urine
- Back pain under the ribs (in the general location of the kidneys)
However, there are some cases of asymptomatic bacteriuria. This is when a person has bacteria in his urinary tract, but it is not causing any symptoms. This condition usually passes without causing any trouble, but may also escalate into a bladder infection in some cases.
Who to See and Types of Treatments Available
If you experience any of the above symptoms, you should consult your doctor right away to get prompt treatment. When caught early, the infection can be easily treated without any complications.
Your general physician, general practitioner, family medicine doctor, internist, or primary health care provider help diagnose the condition and prescribe treatment. They can also help distinguish between urinary tract infection and other health problems that cause similar symptoms such as irritable bladder or vaginal infections.
To diagnose UTIs, patients are asked to provide a urine sample for laboratory testing. The urine test will determine whether a person has the bacteria that cause UTI in this system.
The primary treatment option for urinary tract infections is a course of antibiotics that will kill the bacteria. However, it is important that the patient complete the entire prescribed cycle of medication, even in spite of improving condition. This is to make sure the bacteria is killed off completely and that it does not develop a resistance to the antibiotics. On top of antibiotics, doctors may also prescribe pain medications especially if the pain is severe.
However, before prescribing antibiotics, some doctors may recommend a period of watchful waiting, during which you may use some home treatment techniques to clear out the infection from the body. These include:
- Drinking plenty of water or cranberry juice
- Urinating more often
- Emptying the bladder every time you urinate
Women are also advised to wear loose and comfy clothes instead of tight jeans that trap moisture and create an environment where bacteria can easily thrive. It is also important to wipe the genital area dry.
These home treatment tips can help clear out the infection in a couple of days, especially if symptoms are still very mild. However, if your condition does not improve after two days, it is imperative that you seek medical care immediately.
When Should You See A Urologist
See a urologist right away if you experience any of the above symptoms and you are diabetic, has a history of kidney problems, has a weakened immune system, sees blood or pus in your urine, is older than 65 years of age, or if you are pregnant. If you are taking medications, you will likely feel better after a couple of days. If the condition does not improve or seems to get even worse, your doctor may prescribe a different medication for your urinary tract infection.
It is also crucial to consult a specialist if you experience repeated UTIs as this may indicate an underlying condition such as epididymitis or prostatitis. These may require consistent long-term treatment, such as taking a dose of antibiotics after having sexual intercourse, taking the antibiotics every time the symptoms arise, and lowering the prescribed dose, but extending the medication period.
- American Urological Association: “What is Urology?”
- The Journal of Urology, the Official Journal of the American Urological Association
- Fihn S., New England Journal of Medicine
- National Institute of Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Urinary Tract Infections in Adults.”
- American Urological Association: “Urinary Tract Infections in Adults”