Urinary tract infection

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What is it

A urinary tract infection (UTT) occurs when bacteria multiply in the urethra (the tube through which urine flows from the bladder to the outside of the body), in the bladder itself, or in the kidneys, disrupting normal function and causing swelling and infection.

Infection of the lower urinary tract or bladder is called cystitis. Infection of the kidney or upper urinary-tract  is called pyelonephritis. Urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra.

Many women suffer from frequent UTIs, with nearly 20 percent of women who have one UTI also haying a second. UTIs are the second most common cause of physician visits each year, after respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis; approximately eight million women go to their doctors annually with UTI complaints. Although men can develop UTIs, they are relatively rare, with infection typically caused by a urinary stone or an enlarged prostate.

The reason women are more prone than men to UTIs is probably tied to the female urethra: it is much shorter than a man’s, which allows bacteria in the vagina or rectum quicker access to the bladder.


Not everyone with a urinary tract infection will have symptoms, but most people will experience some of the following:

  • Regular desire to urinate.
  • Painful burning sensation in the bladder or urethra while urination.
  • Chills and fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Despite an urge to urinate, ability to pass only a small amount of strong-smelling, cloudy, sometimes blood-tinged urine.

What causes it

Ordinarily, bacteria that are normally present in the urethra and bladder are washed away by urine, so they don’t have an opportunity to multiply. An infection occurs when bacteria from the digestive tract remain in the urethra or bladder and start to multiply. Typically, infections that start in the urethra w-ill migrate to the bladder. Most infections are started by the E. coli bacteria, which live in the colon and can be easily spread from the rectum to the urethra.

Among women, sexual intercourse, which can push bacteria back up into the bladder, contributes to UTIs. Young women who are becoming sexually active for the first time are especially prone. Pregnancy also increases the risk of UTIs because as a fetus grows, the bladder becomes compressed and doesn’t empty completely, allowing bacteria to reproduce. Diaphragms used for birth control also press on the urethra, making infection more likely.

Perimenopausal and postmenopausal women are also susceptible owing to a decrease in estrogen production, which causes tissues in the urinary- tract to thin out and become more easily inflamed.

Some cases of recurring UTIs are due to structural abnormalities that impede the flow of urine and often these may require correction by surgery to halt the infections.

What if you do nothing

Mild cases of cystitis and urethritis can often clear up without treatment. But if symptoms last longer than two days, you should consult a doctor, since some untreated infections can also cause damage to the bladder or kidneys.

Home remedies

Only women who have had uncomplicated recurring UTIs should consider self-treatment, which will still usually require a supply of antibiotics obtained from a doctor. Before supplying you with antibiotics, your doctor should carry out a thorough evaluation. The following measures may also help recovery during a bout of cystitis.

Use pain relievers

To alleviate cramps or stomach pain, take over-the-counter pain relievers NSAIDs (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen) or acetaminophen according to label directions.

Try applying heat

A warm heating pad (on a low setting) or a hot water bottle placed on your lower abdomen may help soothe pain.

Drink fluids

Drink 10 to 14 glasses of water a day to help increase urine flow and flush out the substances causing the problem.

Drink cranberry juice

The juice seems to possess something that keeps bacterial organisms from attaching to the walls of the bladder and urethra, and thereby prevents them from multiplying. Researchers have suggested that cranberry juice might be used as an adjunct to medical treatment though not as a substitute for it.


Drink plenty of fluids. Drink at least eight glasses of liquid a day enough so that you urinate at least once every four or five hours.

Include cranberry juice

People have been drinking cranberry juice for years to prevent UTIs and now some scientific research supports this. Research at Harvard demonstrated that amongst mature women with high levels of bacteria in their urine, those who consume 10 ounces of cranberry juice cocktail everyday considerably decrease infection rates over a six-month period.

Don’t delay using the bathroom

Delayed urination is a major cause of UTIs. Emptying bacteria-laden urine from the bladder helps reduce the bacteria count.

Practice bathroom hygiene

Wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria around the anus from entering the urethra or vagina.

Clean genital area before sexual contact

Also, urinate immediately right after sexual contact.

Consider changing your birth control method

Women who use spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 are often at high risk for UTIs because it changes the bacterial balance in the vagina, allowing E. coli to proliferate.

Avoid scented douches and feminine hygiene sprays

These products may annoy the urinary tract.

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