How does a urinary tract infection happen?

A urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract. Get rid of a urinary tract infection with medications, home care and alternative therapies.
A urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract. Get rid of a urinary tract infection with medications, home care and alternative therapies.

A urinary tract infection (UTI) develops when microbes enter the urinary tract. Bacteria, and often E.coli which lives in the bowel, is the most common cause of UTIs. Women are more likely to get a urinary tract infection because their urethra is shorter than a man’s. This allows bacteria easier access to the bladder. A woman’s urethral opening is also closer to sources of bacteria that come from the vagina and anus. 

What is urinary tract infection?

UTIs can happen anywhere in the urinary system including in the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. However, they typically occur in the bladder. If you have a UTI, you may experience the following symptoms: 

  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Need to urinate often but not much comes out when you do
  • Pressure in your lower abdomen
  • Milky or cloudy urine that smells bad
  • Blood in your urine (most common in younger women)
  • Tiredness, shaky feeling, confusion, or weakness (most common in older women)
  • Fever — this could be a sign that the infection has gone to your kidneys

There are certain birth controls that can increase your risk of a UTI. There are also other factors that can put you at risk for bacterial growth including: 

  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Holding urine for long periods of time
  • Spinal cord injuries or other nerve damage that makes emptying your bladder completely difficult
  • Conditions or situations that block the flow of urine, like a tumor, kidney stone, or sexual intercourse
  • Diabetes and other conditions that hurt your immune system, making it harder to fight off infection
  • Catheters
  • Hormonal changes in the urinary tract (especially a concern for pregnant women)

Diagnosis for urinary tract infection

To determine if you have a urinary tract infection, your doctor will test a sample of your urine. The sample must be clean, so you will have to wipe your genital area with a special wipe. This is to remove outside bacteria that may affect the test result. The doctor will test your urine for bacteria. If you’ve had UTIs before, your doctor may order additional tests to rule out other issues. These tests are a cystogram and a cystoscopic exam. 

In addition to testing for bacteria or signs of infection, your doctor may do a urine culture. This test will determine levels of bacteria and yeast in the urine, which could also cause your UTI. If you have blood in your urine, you should call your doctor immediately. It could be a sign of a UTI or a symptom of a more severe problem. If a long-lasting fever accompanies your UTI your doctor may do an ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan to check your urinary tract for other issues. 

Treatments for urinary tract infection

To treat a UTI, your doctor will first need to determine what type of UTI you have. There are two types of UTIs. A simple UTI is an infection that happens in healthy people with normal urinary tracts. A complicated UTI occurs in abnormal urinary tracts or when the bacteria causing the infection can’t be treated by many antibiotics. Most women have simple UTIs, but men and children typically have complicated UTIs. 

Medications

Your doctor may put you on a three day antimicrobial regimen to treat uncomplicated UTIs. Usually antibiotics can help you get rid of a UTI. There is a 90% bacterial eradication rate. The types of medication your doctor may prescribe include trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, trimethoprim alone, ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, norfloxacin, and gatifloxacin

Home care

Drinking a lot of fluid when you have a UTI is very important. You should not hold your urine for long periods of time. Drinking fluids will ensure you’re passing urine multiple times per day. Keep your genital area clean and dry. Wipe from front to back so bacteria cannot enter your urethra.  

Alternative therapies

If UTIs continue to return you should consider taking a supplement called D-mannose. You can also consume cranberry products like juice or tablets to help reduce UTI risk. However, both the supplement and cranberry products do contain a lot of sugar

Possible complications and side effects

A UTI that gets treated promptly will not likely harm your urinary tract. However, if you do not treat the infection it can spread to your kidneys and other parts of your body. The most common symptoms of kidney infection are fever and pain in your back where your kidneys are. In very severe cases, the infection can get into your bloodstream and become life threatening. 

If you are on antibiotics for your UTI you could experience side effects from the medication. These side effects can range from minor reactions like a rash to very serious health problems like antibiotic-resistant infections. If you develop side effects while on antibiotics you should contact your doctor immediately. 

QUESTION

How much urine does the average adult pass each day? See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 2/23/2021
References
SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Urinary tract infection."

National Health Service: "Urinary tract infections (UTIs)."

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: "What causes UTIs & UI?"

Office on Women’s Health: "Urinary tract infections."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Treatment of urinary tract infections in nonpregnant women."

Urology Care Foundation: "Urinary tract infections in adults."