The urinary system is a key part of your body, helping to cleanse it from waste and toxins. However, it is also susceptible to urinary tract infections (UTIs).
What is a urinary tract infection?
A urinary tract infection is an infection that occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. The most common type of UTI occurs in the lower tract, which comprises the bladder and the urethra.
Prevalence of UTIs
UTIs are one of the most common bacterial infections, affecting millions of people each year globally. It affects women more than men due to anatomical differences. Approximately 50-60% of women will experience at least one UTI in their lifetime.
Symptoms of UTIs
The symptoms of UTIs can vary depending on the part of the urinary tract that is infected. Some of the common symptoms include a burning sensation during urination, frequent urge to urinate, lower abdominal pain, cloudy or strong-smelling urine, and in severe cases, blood in the urine.
Causes and risk factors
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are typically caused by bacteria, most commonly Escherichia coli (E. coli), that enter the urethra and then the bladder. The source of these bacteria is often the intestines, where they normally reside, but they can also live on the skin around the anus. Here are some common ways in which the bacteria can enter the urinary tract:
- Poor toilet hygiene: Wiping from back to front after using the toilet can spread bacteria from the anal region to the urethra
- Sexual activity: Sexual intercourse can move bacteria from the anal area toward the urethra, especially in women due to their anatomy. Using contraceptives like diaphragms or spermicides can also increase the risk
- Catheter use: A urinary catheter is a flexible tube used to empty the bladder and collect urine. They are usually inserted by a doctor or nurse. Long-term use of urinary catheters can introduce bacteria into the bladder
- Blockages in the urinary tract: Kidney stones or an enlarged prostate gland can trap urine in the bladder and increase the risk of UTIs
- Weakened immune system: People with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to the effects of bacteria entering the urinary tract
- Menopause: Decreased levels of estrogen during menopause can change the urinary tract’s normal bacteria, increasing the risk of UTI
UTIs are more common in women than men due to female anatomy. Women have a shorter urethra, which makes it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder. Additionally, the urethral opening in women is closer to the anus, making it easier for bacteria from the intestines to reach the urethra.
The risk factors of UTI include being female, being sexually active, having a weakened immune system, and having urinary tract abnormalities.
Treatment for UTIs
Treatment for UTIs usually involves antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the infection. Your healthcare provider will decide the best type of antibiotic for you based on the type of bacteria causing your UTI and your overall health condition. It’s essential to complete the entire course of antibiotics, even if your symptoms improve before you’ve finished all the medication.
Preventing UTIs largely involves lifestyle modifications. These include drinking plenty of fluids to dilute your urine and help flush out bacteria, emptying your bladder regularly and completely, and for women, wiping from front to back after using the toilet to prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
If you suspect you have a urinary tract infection, seek medical advice immediately. Timely treatment can prevent complications and improve your overall health.
Dr. Sirichet Anekpornwattana (Fertility doctor) (1 June 2023)