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Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): Symptoms and Causes.

Asian Institute of Nephrology and Urology | December 27, 2023

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Introduction

UTI, or Urinary Tract Infection refers to the infection of any part of your urinary tract. It can be the kidneys, bladder, urethra, or ureter. The infection is mostly caused by the bacteria E. coli and can be treated with antibiotics. Women are more likely to develop UTIs as compared to men.

Although it’s treatable, the infection that spreads to the kidney and other parts of the urinary tract can cause a host of painful symptoms. Fortunately, the treatment is available, and there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk of developing the infection in the first place. In this post, we’ve shared everything you should know about urinary tract infection symptoms, the causes of UTI in women, how to prevent urine infection, and the available treatment. Let’s take a look.

Symptoms and Causes of UTI

Our urinary tract system produces urine to filter waste and excess fluid from the blood. Although the process usually doesn’t involve any complications, sometimes the bacteria can enter the urinary tract, causing urinary tract infections.

As mentioned above, a UTI is a bacterial infection caused by E. coli that enters your ureter and the bladder. There’s a risk of the infection reaching your kidneys through the bladder. Anyone can get a UTI, but women are at increased risk. The bacteria is found in large intestines, and since women have the anus close to the urethra, which is close to the bladder, there is an increased risk of the infection traveling from your anus to the urethral opening and ultimately reaching the bladder.

Symptoms

  • Lower abdominal and pelvic pain
  • Cloudy urine with a weird smell
  • Frequent and sudden urges to pee
  • Inability to hold urine
  • Pain or burning sensation when peeing
  • Blood in the urine

In rare cases, you might experience fever, chills, nausea, and fatigue. If you notice any of the above symptoms, see your doctor immediately. They will diagnose the type of infection and recommend a suitable treatment accordingly.

Risk Factors

Any woman can develop a UTI because of their anatomy. Since there’s very little gap between the urethra and the anus, the bacteria has less distance to cover when traveling to the bladder. This puts them at an increased risk of getting urinary tract infections. Sexual activity can also increase your risk of catching an infection, especially if you have multiple sexual partners. Women who have entered menopause are also at a high risk of getting UTIs because of a lack of estrogen. Other than these, the below-listed risk factors increase your risk of developing an UTI.

  • Urinary Tract Problems: Children born with a birth defect in their urinary tract system might have trouble peeing. The excess pee stored in the bladder can increase the risk of an UTI.
  • Kidney Stones: Kidney stones block urine from passing through the bladder, which can eventually result in a UTI.
  • Weak Immune System: If your immune system isn’t working optimally or has been temporarily suppressed due to an organ transplant or other medical requirements, your body might not be able to kill bacteria. This increases the risk of a urinary tract infection.
  • Catheter: Those who are unable to urinate naturally and are using a catheter to empty their bladder are at high risk of developing an infection.
  • Urinary Procedure: If you have recently undergone a urinary procedure that involves the use of a medical instrument, you might be at an increased risk of UTI.

Complications of UTI

UTIs do not really cause any major complications, but the symptoms can be embarrassing and painful. If it’s left untreated for a long time, a UTI can lead to:

  • Repeated infection
  • Kidney damage from repeated and untreated UTIs
  • Complications in pregnancy, i.e., high risk of low birth weight
  • Sepsis

It's important to seek medical help immediately if you suspect a urinary tract infection. Pain while peeing or blood in the urine is never common. They are mostly caused by an underlying medical condition, which is why it's important to get evaluated to rule out the possibility of any serious health issues.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A UTI can be diagnosed with a urinalysis. In this case, a sample of your urine is sent to the lab to test for the presence of a bacterial infection in your urinary tract. An ultrasound might be needed if you have repeated UTIs that don’t respond to the antibiotics. Likewise, your healthcare provider might recommend a cystoscopy to take a look inside your bladder to detect infection.

The best treatment for UTIs is antibiotics. You will be prescribed antibiotics, depending on the type of infection and the complications. It’s important to take your medicines for the duration recommended by your doctor, even if your symptoms go away. If the UTI returns, it will be more difficult to treat.

That was all about the urinary tract infection. It's important to see a medical specialist if you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms, as an UTI can be difficult to treat if it reaches your bladder.

FAQs

Female anatomy is the most common cause of urinary tract infections. The urethra is close to the bladder as well as the anus, increasing the risk of bacteria traveling up to the bladder through the urethra.

Some women might not notice any symptoms, while others experience pain in urination, a frequent urge to urinate, blood in urine, and pelvic pain.

Antibiotics are the best treatment for UTIs. Your healthcare provider will assess your condition and recommend antibiotics based on the bacterial infection.

The only way to treat UTIs is by completing a course of antibiotics. These are prescribed medications that kill bacteria in the urinary tract and help alleviate the symptoms of UTI.

The three common medications used to treat UTIs are:

  • Trimethoprim
  • Fosfomycin
  • Nitrofurantoin