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Urinary Tract Infection

  • What is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?

    The urinary system consists of the kidneys, bladder, ureters and urethra. The kidneys are filters that remove excess fluid, electrolytes and waste from the blood, while retaining the important elements. Each kidney has a ureter, a small tube that allows urine from the kidney to pass into the bladder. When the bladder is full, the urine leaves the body through a tube called the urethra. A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of any part of the urinary system. UTIs usually affect the bladder or the urethra first and can then spread to the ureters and the kidneys if left untreated. The types of UTIs include:

    • Cystitis (bladder infections)
    • Pyelonephritis (kidney infections)
    • Urethritis (urethra infections)
  • Urine is usually sterile, which means it does not have any bacteria, viruses or fungi present. A UTI can occur when a microorganism enters the urinary system through the urethra. Most infections are caused by escherichia coli (E. coli), which is a digestive tract bacterium that lives in the colon (large intestine) and spreads to the urethra from the anus. Other microorganisms, such as chlamydia and mycoplasma, can cause UTIs in men and women but these UTIs are usually restricted to the urethra and the reproductive system. Since these microorganisms are sexually transmitted, both partners will requirement treatment when infections occur.

    Risk factors of a UTI include:

    • Structural abnormalities of the urinary system, urinary stones and bladder obstruction
    • Diabetes as the urine contains higher amounts of sugar than usual
    • Men with an enlarged prostate as they are unable to empty their bladder completely
    • Babies born with abnormalities in the urinary system
    • Women, as they have a shorter urethra, allowing bacteria to reach the bladder more easily. The risk is usually highest when women become sexually active or after menopause due to the dry state of the urethra and vagina. 1 in 5 women develops a UTI during her lifetime
  • UTI symptoms vary depending on the type of infection and a person's age. Some people may not have any symptoms at all. The usual symptoms of UTI include:

    • Back pain
    • Blood in the urine
    • Cloudy urine
    • Fever and chills
    • Frequent and urgent need to urinate
    • Incontinence (inability to control urination)
    • Malaise (feeling generally unwell)
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Pain in the abdomen or above the pubic bone
    • Pain in the ribs
    • Painful and burning sensation during urination
    • An antibiotic course is usually enough to treat simple UTIs. The choice and duration of antibiotic treatment depends on medical history and the type of bacteria involved.
    • Preventive measures, especially in women with recurrent infections, can be taken to reduce the risk of developing UTIs. These include:
      1. Drinking cranberry juice or taking vitamin C to help increase the acidity of the urine, which reduces bacterial growth
      2. Drinking plenty of water
      3. Not holding the bladder for a long time and urinating when needed
      4. Urinating immediately after sexual intercourse
    • Women with recurring UTIs may need to take antibiotics daily for 3 – 6 months or after sexual intercourse.
    • Kidney damage can occur if cystitis (bladder infection) is not treated and the infection spreads to the kidneys
    • Septicaemia (serious blood infection) can occur if the bacteria enters the bloodstream
    • A UTI during pregnancy can lead to premature birth and hypertension (high blood pressure)
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