- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
What is Urinary Tract Infection
A urinary tract Infection or (UTI) is an infection occurring in any part of the urinary system. UTI can involve the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. However; most infections take place in the lower urinary tract, such as the bladder and the urethra and are known as simple cystitis or a bladder infection.
When the upper urinary tract becomes infected, it is referred to as pyelonephritis or a kidney infection and can have serious health implications.
Women are more at risk of developing UTIs than men; this is partly due to the female anatomy, sexual intercourse, and family history. Recurrence of urinary tract infections are common, and around 50% of women will experience at least one episode of infection sometime in their lives, children also get UTIs, but this is rare.
What Causes a urinary tract infection in women
The primary cause of UTIs are bacteria from the bowel found in the skin near the rectum, or in the vagina. Bacteria may spread by entering the urinary tract through the urethra. Once in the urethra, the infection moves upward into the bladder and other parts of the urinary tract.
Sexual intercourse is a common cause of UTI in women. For younger women, most UTIs happens within 24 hours of having sexual contact. A common diagnosis in younger women is 'honeymoon cystitis'.
The female anatomy causes women to be more prone to urinary tract infection, during intercourse the bacteria in the female vaginal area can be massaged into the urethra.
E. coli and yeast are common organisms that can cause UTI.
Diet, what we eat and drink can trigger UTIs, many preservatives, and chemicals added to our food can make it easier for particular organisms to colonise the wall of the urinary bladder. Food additives such as high fructose, caffeine and alcohol can increase the likelihood of developing UTIs. Foods high in sugar content can help to promote the growth of bacteria and yeast.
Dehydration can cause UTI by stressing the kidneys, heart, and the immune system. When the immune system is compromised, bacteria can quickly multiply to cause infection. Optimal hydration helps to flush pathogens from the urinary system and body's cells to optimise health.
Diabetes causes stress to the whole body, the elevated glucose levels that characterise the condition also makes it prone to a yeast infection that can trigger a urinary tract infection. Individuals with diabetes can avoid UTIs by controlling their blood sugar levels.
Antibiotics, over the years antibiotics, have been overused and abused, we took them at the first sign of a cold, flu or infection, we are now facing a crisis. Many different types of bacteria are now adapting to their environment and are becoming resistance to current antibiotics, with fewer new antibiotic drugs produced, or currently researched; UTIs and other infections are increasingly becoming harder to treat. This situation will have significant health consequences for us all in the not too distant future.
Contraceptives, women who use diaphragms as a contraceptive, are thought to be more likely to get UTIs. Certain types of condoms and spermicidal foams can also increase the risk of UTIs in women. It is prudent to discuss the various ways of preventing UTIs with health care professionals when deciding on which contraceptive to use. Changing from one spermicidal preparation to another may be necessary. It is also worth considering the possibility of changing the size of the diaphragm. Always wash hands before handling diaphragms.
Allergies, UTI can be caused by an allergic reaction to some of the products women use in and around the vaginal area. Products such as soaps, deodorants and powders may cause inflammation to the sensitive area that can trigger UTI.
What Causes a urinary tract infection in men
Although urinary tract infections are much more frequent in women, millions of men also experience the condition each year. Infection of the urinary system is the second most common type of infection in both men and women and accounts for approximately 8.3 million doctor visits each year, second only to the common cold, with 20% of all UTIs occurring in men.
The rate of UTI increases with age and are 1.5 times higher in African American men than in other ethnic groups. Asian men are thought to have the lowest rate of inpatient hospitalisation for UTI care, followed by Hispanics and Caucasians.
If UTIs remain untreated, the condition can become severe with far-reaching consequences; it is important to recognise the symptoms and get treatment quickly.
Urine is usually sterile and free from bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Infection occurs when small organisms such as bacteria, usually E. coli, which normally lives in the colon, contaminates the urethra and starts to reproduce.
The body expels the majority of bacteria that enters the urinary tract when we urinate. However, an infection can occur when bacteria remain in the urinary system. When confined to the urethra, the condition is known as urethritis, in the bladder, it is cystitis.
If left untreated, the bacteria can travel up to the kidneys resulting in a kidney infection that can be severe.
Chlamydia and Mycoplasma are microorganisms that can also cause UTI. Unlike E. coli, both these conditions can be sexually transmitted and require treatment in both male and female.
Risk Factors For UT I in men
Resisting the urge, do not hold your urine. Urinate when you feel the need.
Previous surgery on urinary tract
Have UTIs in the past
Blockage in the urinary tract that impedes the flow of urine, i.e., Kidneys and bladder stones
Not circumcised, germs can get trapped under the foreskin of the penis, where it can enter the urinary tract causing UTIs
Enlarged or infected prostate gland can increase the risk of UTIs. Urinary tract infection in older men are often associated with acute bacterial prostatitis that requires immediate treatment; antibiotics treatment can prove to be difficult because the drug is unable to penetrate the prostate tissue adequately.
Sexual Intercourse, risk of getting UTI can be higher when sex partner has an infection; anal sex also increases the risk of UTIs
Weak or damaged immune system, our immune system is the body's defence against disease and infections. When weakened, it is unable to fight off the attack by germs causing UTIs.
Long-term illness such as HIV and diabetes can weaken the immune system. Medications that suppresses the immune system, overuse of antibiotics, dehydration and a poor diet lacking in micronutrients will also impact the immune system negatively. Consuming too much refine sugars can reduce the body's white cell ability to kill germs; sugar also encourages the growth of yeast infection that can trigger UTIs.
Personal hygiene habits, wash before and after having sex and encourage partners to do the same.
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infection
Symptoms of Lower UT I include:
Burning, pain or discomfort when urinating
Pain in lower abdomen
Urgency ( an urgent need to pass urine)
An unusually unpleasant odour to urine
Blood in the urine (haematuria)
Feeling of tenderness around the pelvis
Malaise (general feeling of unwell)
Symptoms of Upper UT I includes:
A high temperature of 38 C or above
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain on urination
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- Increased frequency or urgency of urination
In UTI of the upper urinary tract, pain may also occur in the back, side or groin and can be moderate or severe, often worse when urinating.
With Upper UTIs, there is a higher risk of complications. Therefore, it is important to contact a doctor if these symptoms are evident, especially when accompanied by pain and discomfort, or if symptoms continue for more than five days as advised by NHS Choice.
Urinary tract infection antibiotic treatment
Antibiotic therapy is the treatment for UTIs, the choice of antibiotic and the length of the therapy will depend largely on the individual patient's history, the type of bacterial infection, the cause of the condition and the patient's response to treatment. Antibiotics chosen may include:
Potassium or sodium citrate are available over the counter without a prescription; these types of medication works by making the urine less acidic which helps to reduce pain and discomfort in mild cystitis. When taking medicine always read the accompanying booklet and follow the instructions.
Paracetamol or ibuprofen can also help to relieve pain and reduce fever
Where someone is severely ill with a kidney infection, hospitalisation may be necessary.
Drinking sufficient fluids such as water will help to re-hydrate the body and wash out infection from the urinary tract.
Avoid spicy foods, coffee, and alcohol. Long-term complications are unlikely with prompt treatment of UTIs.
Cranberry Juice is probably the best known natural treatment for both preventing urinary tract infection and speeding up the recovery process once infection has developed.
Drinking 2 to 4, four ounce-glasses of cranberry juice per day is sufficient to both prevent a UT I and speed up recovery after the infection. Cranberry juice should be pure 100% unsweetened juice; this will have a tart acidic taste.
Studies published in 2010 found that cranberry juice may begin to prevent bacterial infection developing in the urinary tract within eight hours of drinking the juice. Previous studies have suggested that the active compound in cranberry juice are not destroyed by the digestive system, instead; it fights against bacterium like E. coli preventing the bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.
However, urinary tract infection is a potentially severe condition and should not be self-treated, anyone suspecting that they may have a urinary tract infection should see a doctor. Untreated UTI can develop into a life-threatening condition such as kidney failure.
Drinking cranberry juice is beneficial to our general health and a good way to keep E.coli at bay, however, antibiotics may be necessary, and it is important to contact your doctor or health care provider for a simple urine test and culture to diagnose the condition and decide which antibiotic to prescribe if any.
Vitamin C supplements, taking regular vitamin C can help to reduce the number of harmful bacteria present in the urinary tract that can cause UTIs.
Baking Soda, one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda dissolved in half a glass of water taken two to three times a day, will make the urine less acidic and is often used as a natural cure for UTI. However; it is not necessarily safe for everyone, therefore, contact your doctors or health care professionals before use.
Pineapple, Blueberry, Pomegranate, like cranberry; these juices also contain antioxidant that may help to reduce oxidative stress and boost the immune system.
Herbal Tea, a combination of two or more of the following herbs will make an excellent UTI-fighting tea: uva-ursi, pipsissewa, buchu, cleavers, chickweed, nettle or dandelion leaf. Always check with your healthcare provider before taking medicinal herbs.
Water helps to flush bacteria from the urinary tract and hydrate the cells; we need to drink 2-3 litres daily.
Apple cider vinegar helps to normalise PH levels
Garlic has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and is ideal for treating UT I.
Parsley high in Vitamin C helps to relieve pain and normalises PH levels
Celery, Parsley, and watermelon have a natural diuretic action
Probiotics, Yogurt contains probiotics or good bacteria, and can to keep the bad bacteria which causes urinary tract infection at bay.
How to prevent UT Is
Practising good personal hygiene is the first step in preventing UT I, keep the skin between the rectum and vaginal area clean by washing with mild soap and water at least once daily. It's great to relax in a bath, it can be soothing and even romantic, but a shower is much healthier, try to limit the number of baths taken.
Try passing urine after sex; even a small amount can save a trip to the doctors.
Always wash genital area both before and after sexual intercourse.
- Always use underwear with a cotton crotch, the cotton fabric allows moisture to escape, while most other materials can trap moisture to create a potential breathing ground for bacteria.
- Women who experience recurrent episodes of UT I should consider changing sexual position to reduce trauma to the urethra and bladder.
- Always wipe from front to back after bowel movement or urinating
The information contained in this article is meant to supplement, not to replace advice from your doctor or health care provider. Each person has their individual needs and may respond differently to treatment. Your doctor should be the first port call if you are concern about the possibility of having a urinary tract infection.
Physicians and health care providers are aware of your medical history and any possible contraindication for the medication you may be currently taking.