Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are a common medical concern in people of all ages, but they are particularly common among sexually active adults, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. By understanding the signs and symptoms of a urinary tract infection, patients can seek appropriate treatment before the infection spreads and becomes severe.What is a UTI?A urinary tract infection occurs when the kidneys, bladder or urethra become infected. In most cases, this infection is caused by the presence of E. coli or other fecal bacteria. More rarely, UTIs can be caused by fungal infections and even some STDs like chlamydia.The most common type of UTI is a bladder infection, also known as cystitis. Kidney infections can develop if cystitis is left untreated. Because infection in the kidneys can cause long-lasting damage and spread to the bloodstream if left untreated, kidney infections are considered to be very serious and may constitute a medical emergency.
Symptoms of a UTI
The symptoms of a urinary tract infection vary from one individual to the next, and they are experienced somewhat differently between men and women or between patients of different ages. In general, the most common symptom of a urinary tract infection is a constant or frequent desire to urinate coupled with small amounts of urine when the patients relieve themselves.
Other common symptoms include a burning or itching sensation during urination or pain the lower abdomen and pelvis. Lower back pain, positioned just beneath the ribs, is a sign of a kidney infection. If lower back pain is accompanied by a fever, chills or general weakness, it is important to seek medical care immediately.
How Are UTIs Transmitted?
There are several ways that urinary tract infections may become transmitted. One of the most common is unprotected sexual contact or sex with a partner with poor hygiene. Due to the proximity of the anus and urethra, women are particularly prone to urinary tract infections resulting from sex. In fact, these infections are so common that they are sometimes referred to as “honeymoon cystitis.” Men, too, can get urinary tract infections from sexual contact, especially from unprotected anal sex.
Other common causes of UTIs include poor personal hygiene or exposure to unsanitary conditions. For example, swimming in a pond or lake may invite bacteria into the urethra. Additionally, individuals with catheters can develop UTIs if the catheter is misapplied or becomes dirty.
Finally, an extremely common cause of UTIs is simply retaining urine rather than urinating frequently. Urination flushes out the urinary tract, especially the urethra, and helps prevent bacteria from entering the body. By suppressing urination, individuals place themselves at risk for bacterial infection. This happens often in people whose jobs require them to work for long periods without bathroom breaks, such as truck drivers. It also occurs frequently in the elderly and infirm whose mobility issues prevent them from using the restroom as often as necessary.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention for a UTI?
Some mild urinary tract infections clear up on their own after a few days thanks to the body’s natural immune system. You can speed this process along with certain home remedies. Many people suggest drinking unsweetened cranberry juice to promote urinary tract health and increase the acidity of the urine, which makes the bladder a hostile place for bacteria. Vitamin C supplements, blueberries and pineapple will also have a similar effect.
In most cases, however, home remedies are not enough to stop urinary tract infections. In order to cure them, you will need to obtain antibiotics from a physician. The specific antibiotic used will depend on the exact bacteria causing the infection, so the doctor will want to complete a urinalysis first to assess the pathogens in your urine.
In addition to antibiotics, you may receive a drug like Azo that helps to reduce the uncomfortable symptoms of urinary tract infections. This drug eases the pain and burning associated with UTIs and may help provide relief from the constant urge to urinate. While Azo is an over-the-counter drug, be aware that it does not actually cure urinary tract infections; it merely suppresses the symptoms to provide relief while you wait for the antibiotics to do their job.
If symptoms seem to worsen after a couple of days or you gain additional symptoms, it’s important to visit with a doctor to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. This is especially true if you begin experiencing kidney pain in conjunction with a fever or nausea. Kidney infections may require intravenous antibiotics and hospitalization to treat properly if they are allowed to become severe.
Urinary tract infections are unpleasant, but they don’t need to become serious. By learning to recognize the symptoms early on, you can seek the appropriate treatment to provide relief and ensure proper urinary tract health.