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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 act like filters to remove excess fluid, electrolytes and waste from the blood, and keep only the important elements. Each kidney has a ureter, a small tube that joins it to the bladder, which allows the 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 first the bladder or the urethra, and if not treated they can then spread to the ureters and the kidneys. The types of UTIs include:

    • Bladder infections (cystitis)
    • Kidney infections (pyelonephritis)
    • Urethra infections (urethritis)
  • 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, and spreads to the urethra from the anus. Other microorganisms, including 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 need treatment when infections occur.

    Other causes that increase the risk of UTIs include:

    • Structural abnormalities of the urinary system, urinary stones and bladder obstruction.
    • People with diabetes have more sugar in the urine, which can lead to UTIs.
    • Men with an enlarged prostate are unable to empty their bladder completely.
    • Babies born with abnormality in the urinary system have a higher risk.
    • Women have a shorter urethra, thus allowing bacteria to reach the bladder more easily. Women’s risk usually increases when they become sexually active and 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 the infection and a person's age. Some may not have any symptoms at all. When symptoms are present, they can include any of the following:

    • 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 appropriate 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 long, and urinating when needed
      4. Urinating immediately after sexual intercourse
    • Women with reoccurring 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.
    • Serious blood infection (septicaemia) can occur if the bacteria enter the bloodstream.
    • A UTI during pregnancy can lead to a premature birth and high blood pressure (hypertension).
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