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What is Urinary Tract Infection

Updated on January 23, 2017
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Jo has been an ITU nurse at the London North West NHS Trust for 14 years. She obtained her RN at University College London Hospital.


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

  • Urinating frequently

  • Pain in lower abdomen

  • Cloudy urine

  • Urgency ( an urgent need to pass urine)

  • An unusually unpleasant odour to urine

  • Blood in the urine (haematuria)

  • Feeling of tenderness around the pelvis

  • Back pain

  • Malaise (general feeling of unwell)

Symptoms of Upper UT I includes:

  • A high temperature of 38 C or above

  • Shivering
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Pain on urination
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Increased frequency or urgency of urination
  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

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:

  • co-amoxiclav
  • ciprofloxacin
  • cefalexin

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.

Home Remedies for UT Is

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.

Have you ever had a Urinary Tract Infection?

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    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Hi Pro-Hubber, female urethras are shorter and closer to the anus, this makes it easier for bacteria to gain entry into the bladder to cause infection. and yes, good hygiene practices are very important.

      Thank you for taking a look at this, much appreciated. My best to you.

    • Pro-Hubber profile image

      Pro-Hubber 4 years ago from Florida

      female gets UTI more often than men because their urethra is smaller than the men. So bacteria can get into the system easy by crossing a small acidic canal (urethra). female should take more care when washing after poops. starts from front to back,

      Thank you for the hub.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Hi Devika, very nice to see you! Thanks for stopping by, much appreciated. I know I have a lot of catching up to do, I'll be over to yours soon. So glad you found this useful, UTI's can be very debilitating especially in older people.

      Take care and my best to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      What is Urinary Tract Infection so right and well pointed out about this infection I am glad to have read this hub thanks for sharing such valuable information

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      rajan, I'm so glad you were able to check this out!...many thanks for the visit, comment and the share. Have a wonderful day and my best to you.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very useful and interesting information, Jo. I knew about a few like cranberry, garlic, ACV, baking soda.

      voting this up, useful and interesting and sharing for benefit of readers.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Michelle, UTI is no fun, it affects many people, men, women the old and the young. I hope the information helps. Thank you so much for the visit, comment and share.


    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      I have known a few people who experienced this, and boy, is it painful. Thanks for sharing these excellent ins and outs of it, Jo! Sharing!

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Hi Faith, very nice to see you! are so right, as we get older it becomes much more difficult to cope with recurring infections like UTI, it's far better to prevent them, but that is not always possible, even for the young folks UTI can be very debilitating.

      Thank you for the visit and comment, always appreciated, my best to you.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Informative hub here. I know in older persons, they seem to get them more often and it really does a number on you when you are older. Can be very serious if not treated right away.

      Excellent write, Faith Reaper

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Kashmir. lovely to see you, many thanks for checking this out always appreciated and my very best to you.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Frank, thank you for taking a look, much appreciated.

      How could I leave you guys out? :)

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      HI kidscrafts, thank you for stopping by and for this useful information re: D-Mannose, it's new to me, but never too old to learn. :) I'm sure many people will be interested in this product. Thank you again and all the best.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 4 years ago from Shelton

      well thank you tobusiness for keeping even us guys informed...:) voted useful my friend :)

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Great article! UTI are not fun to have for sure!

      Personnaly, since a few years, I always have a box of D-mannose ...just in case!

      D-mannose is a great product for UTI.

      In Canada, it's quite easy to find that product in health food stores.

      D-Mannose is a sugar that helps the body to eliminate e-coli bacteria present in the urinary tract.

      The problem with the e-coli bacteries is that they attache themselves to the bladder wall and reproduice themselves. When the bacteries interact with the D-mannose they have a better bond with the D-mannose and it's then easy to flush them while going to the washroom.

      In fact the D-mannose is one of the sugar that you can find in the cranberry juice. It's a great product that not enough people know about and it's a very efficient way to treat a painful infection! It avoids taking antibiotics in most cases!

      It seems that we have some naturally in our body but often not enough.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi my friend great well written and informative article with all useful information to help anyone who may think they have Urinary Tract Infection. I have had this once and hope i do not get it again.

      Vote up and more !!! Sharing !

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Hi Doc, I'm so glad you found this useful and informative, that makes it all worthwhile. Thank for reading this monster hub, much appreciated.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Imkarn, yes, I know you've been through the mill lately, I hope you're feeling better, I can see you're back in the saddle :).

      I've not heard of D- Mannose before, I just Googled it, look interesting. I'll get some more info to add to this article, thank you for the tip.

      Let us know how you get on with the D-Mannose, good luck and my best as always.

    • profile image

      lovedoctor926 4 years ago

      Excellent hub. Useful & informative. Good visuals too. I found the videos helpful. Cranberry juice is really good for UTI's

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      Cipro, Macrobid, Cipro, Macrobid...sigh...

      I think you know that i was just diagnosed with a fairly rare disease - medullary sponge kidney (MSK)..

      i still can't find a specialist in my city - ive been referred to a nephrologist about 2 hours away..

      i don't want to be on low-dose long-term macro, so i'm going to try D-Mannose..

      i don't know if you've heard of it - my urologist said he had not, but - the MSK group speaks very highly of it

      GREAT information, GREAT layout, GREAT HUB!

      voting and sharing forward..

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Hi Bill, I just love it when you're my first :)). The condition affects a lot of people, especially women. It can be very painful; but if it is not treated, it can lead to much more serious conditions which are preventable. So it's good to have the information on hand. Thank you for the prompt response, I hope all is well with you and yours.

      Always a pleasure.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have never had this, Jo, but have known people who did and it is quite painful. I knew about cranberry juice but the other information is great to know. Thank you for sharing your expertise. Passing this on!

      Well done, Jo!