Infection and Inflammation

What is an Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)? Common Among Women

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common among women. Find out more about urinary tract infection treatments and prevention methods here!

What is an Urinary Tract Infection?

Urinary tract infections or UTI are the second most common type of infection diagnosed today. While they’re easy to treat with antibiotics, they can still cause a lot of pain and irritation if not identified and treated early.

A UTI (also known as a bladder infection) is a common condition that occurs when bacteria migrate into the usually sterile urinary tract and multiply. If you have a UTI, you’ll typically experience a frequent urge to urinate, even after you’ve just emptied your bladder; a burning sensation during urination; pressure in your lower abdomen; and other symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections

UTI symptoms can vary and it’s possible for someone who has a urinary tract infection to experience no symptoms. But for many people, UTI symptoms are uncomfortable and painful. Besides a strong, persistent urge to urinate, common symptoms of UTI include;

  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Passing only small amounts of urine
  • Cloudy, strong-smelling urine
  • Red or pink-tinged urine, showing blood
  • Mucus or pus-like urethral discharge, usually in men
  • Incontinence

When a urinary tract infection moves to the kidneys, symptoms such as fever, shaking, chills, and pain in the upper back, side, or groin may occur.

Urinary Tract Infections in Men

While urinary tract infections are common in women, at least 40 to 60 percent of women developing a UTI during their lives. Men are not immune to these often troublesome and potentially dangerous infections. 12 per cent of men will have symptoms of at least one UTI during their lives and while urinary tract infections are rare in young men, the risk of infection increases as they age. UTI becomes more common in men older than 50.

Women are at greater risk for urinary tract infections simply because of their anatomy. The bacteria that normally live in the pelvic region and the major cause of this type of infection don’t have to travel far to infect the bladder.

Conversely, the male anatomy can help keep this type of infection at bay. The longer urethra in men makes it more difficult for bacteria to travel backwards that far without being washed out or killed by the immune system.

Besides age, there are additional factors that put you at a greater risk of getting a UTI if you’re a man, including;

Urinary Tract Infections in Children

UTI Symptoms in children are differ from symptoms in adults. Urinary tract infections are quite common in children. While UTI in very young children is often associated with an anatomic abnormality, for others, the infection is related to introducing bacteria into the urinary tract. UTI in children peak in infancy and then again between ages 2 and 4, coinciding with potty training.

In newborns, signs of urinary tract infection include poor feeding, lethargy, diarrhoea, vomiting, mild jaundice, and fever. For babies younger than 2, foul-smelling urine may also be a sign. For older children, the more classic UTI signs, such as urgency, incontinence, and pain while urinating, occur.

What are the Causes of UTI in Children?

Urinary tract infections or UTIs are fairly prevalent in babies and children. UTI is the second most common type of infection in children, right behind ear infections. By the age of 6, up to 7 percent of girls and up to 2 percent of boys will have had a urinary tract infection.

During babyhood, boys are more likely to develop a urinary tract infection or UTI than girls. After infancy, however, the tables turn and girls are much more apt to be diagnosed with a UTI. What causes a urinary tract infection in a child is the same as what causes them in adults, which is bacteria, enter the bladder and multiply.

Bacteria (germs) enter the urethra and creep upward into the bladder to spur a UTI. For children, bacteria can get there a few different ways;

  • Lingering in wet underwear
  • Wiping from back to front
  • Holding urine too long
  • Not drinking enough fluids, which can make it so your child isn’t producing enough urine to flush away bacteria
  • Frequent bouts of diarrhoea
  • Severe constipation can also hinder a child from normally passing urine

Some children can have a predisposition to UTI, putting them at a greater risk of infection. In young children, these factors include:

  • Prematurity
  • Vesicourethral Reflux (VUR) This is a condition where the urine flows backwards from the bladder toward the kidneys because of a birth defect. Between, 30 and 50 percent of children diagnosed with a UTI have VUR.
  • Other Malformations and Obstructions of the Urinary Tract These can include an abdominal mass, enlarged kidneys, an atypical opening to the urethra, and lower spine deformities.
  • Urinary Catheter Use
  • Being Uncircumcised (boys)
  • Diabetes
  • Trauma
  • Sexual Abuse (girls)

Urinary Tract Infections in Women

UTI is much more common in women than men, and they’re especially rare in young and middle-aged men. This is partly because of the female anatomy. Women have shorter urethras, making it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder.

Having sex more frequently and with new partners can increase a person’s risk of developing a UTI. A woman’s urethra is next to both the vagina and anus, enabling bacteria to travel into the urinary tract during sexual intercourse. A UTI caused by frequent intercourse is sometimes dubbed honeymoon cystitis.

Other factors that can increase the risk of a UTI include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Perimenopause and menopause
  • A blocked urinary tract, e.g. kidney stones, enlarged prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) can trap urine in the bladder and increase the risk of UTI
  • Diabetes: This condition suppresses the immune system, increasing one’s vulnerability to UTI
  • Catheter use
  • Recent urinary surgery
  • Wearing thong underwear

Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy

One’s risk of developing a UTI increases during pregnancy, starting at week 6 through week 24, thanks to several factors, including hormonal changes that can make it easier for bacteria to travel into the urinary tract.

In addition, as the uterus grows throughout pregnancy, it can put pressure on the bladder, making it more difficult to empty.

Pregnancy can also make a UTI more difficult to treat, which can have serious consequences, including pyelonephritis (when the infection moves to the kidneys); preterm labor; low birth weight; and sepsis.

urinalysis and a urine culture are routinely performed at an initial prenatal visit to screen for UTI, but if you’re pregnant and suspect you may have an infection, seek medical attention quickly.

Urinary Tract Infections During Menopause

Frequent sexual intercourse is one of the biggest UTI risk factors for younger women. For menopausal women, however, physical changes such as the thinning of vaginal tissue, difficulty fully emptying the bladder, incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse are the primary culprits. 

Prolapse is when a pelvic organ, like the bladder, drops and pushes against the walls of the vagina.

In addition, during menopause, the body produces less estrogen, a hormone that, among other functions, helps keep the bacteria levels in the bladder’s lining and urethra healthy. Vaginal estrogen creams may restore the normal bacterial balance of the vagina, thus helping to stave off recurrent UTI.

Urinary Tract Infection Diagnosis

Visit your general practitioner or a doctor’s clinic as soon as you suspect a UTI. There, you will refer to a urinalysis or urine routine test, which involves screening a sample of urine for bacteria and blood cells.

For women – To ensure a clean urine sample, a physician will probably have you clean your genital area with a special wipe beforehand, and ask that you do a midstream catch of the urine.

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Urinary Tract Infection Treatment

If a UTI is diagnosed, you’ll be treated with antibiotics. It’s important to note that false-negative results occur and that almost all women who experience typical UTI symptoms and a negative urine culture have a UTI.

If you’ve had a prior UTI, your doctor will look at prior cultures (presuming urine culture test done) to see which bacteria were found and which antibiotics were used; this often guides therapy in recurrent UTI.

Most UTIs can be taken care of with antibiotics. Some people have chronic UTI, meaning the infection is recurrent. If this is the case, you may need a stronger course of antibiotics or you may need to take them for longer. Severe UTI may require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics.

How to prevent urinary tract infection?

There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting a UTI for men and women. A few of those are;

  • Drink plenty of water and other liquids to help flush out bacteria.
  • Urinate frequently, or about every two to three hours.
  • For women: Wipe from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement.
  • Urinate before and soon after having sexual intercourse.
  • Avoid synthetic underwear, tight pants, and lingering in wet gym clothes or a bathing suit. Though none of this can cause a UTI, these habits can increase the spread of bacteria.
  • For women: Avoid vaginal deodorants, douches, powders, and other potentially irritating feminine products.
  • Use a method of birth control other than a diaphragm, spermicide, or unlubricated condoms.

In some people, urinary tract infections come back again and again. Women, especially, are likely to have recurrent UTIs. While recurrences usually develop within three months of the original infection, having over two within six months (or three or more within a year) is technically considered a recurrence.

Besides precautions and at-home strategies to help prevent UTIs, sometimes antibiotics are used as a preventive measure for those with frequent UTI recurrences.

Managing risk factors by maintaining good hygiene, such as wiping from front to back for women and avoiding spermicides, can lower your likelihood of repeat UTI.

How long does the urinary tract infection last?

Once treatment has started, symptoms of simple bladder infections usually go away within one to two days, though you’ll need to continue taking any course of antibiotics as prescribed. If the infection is complicated and has spread to the kidney, it may take a week or longer before symptoms disappear. 

Can I have a urinary tract infection home treatment?

Urinary tract infection home treatment. UTI is treated with antibiotics and sometimes additional medication for pain relief. While antibiotics are still considered the gold standard of UTI treatments, there are some home remedies you can use to help relieve symptoms as well. Talk to your doctor about home remedies for UTI.

What are the complications of urinary tract infection?

Delayed treatment for UTI can lead to complications. Most UTI causes no lasting damage if they are treated quickly. But if left untreated, UTI can lead to complications that include
Recurring infections
Permanent kidney damage
Narrowing of the urethra in men
A potentially life-threatening infection called sepsis, especially when kidneys are infected (called urosepsis)

Conclusion

Preventing, diagnosing, and properly treating urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be overwhelming. Here are some additional sources of information that can help, Everydayhealth

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