What Is A Urinary Tract Infection?

Urinary tract infectionThe urinary system (tract) consists of the kidneys, the ureters and the bladder. This is the organ system that produces, stores and excretes urine.  A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection that attacks one or more parts of the urinary system.

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These infections are mainly caused by the gastrointestinal bacteria when they enter and multiply in the urinary tract. The Escherichia coli bacteria is the main cause of urinary tract infections, however a few other viruses, fungi and bacteria also cause urinary tract infections.

When the infection occurs in the lower parts of the urinary system, it is referred to as cystitis. When it occurs in the upper parts, that is the kidney, it is referred to as pyelonephritis.

Symptoms in men

The symptoms from cystitis include painful urination, urge to urinate, cloudy urine and frequent urination.  The symptoms from pyelonephritis include those of cystitis, fever, nausea, shivering and pain in the body between the ribs and the hip.

Symptoms in women

The symptoms are painful urination, urge to urinate, cloudy urine and frequent urination. In complicated cases lack of vaginal discharge, pain in the pubic bone and lower back, visible pyuria (pus) and hematura (blood in urine) are the symptoms.  Fever, nausea, shivering and flank pain are symptoms also found in women.  In some cases only some of these symptoms may concur.

The risk factors of urinary tract infection include gender, sexual intercourse, the female anatomy, age, illness, and family history.


UTIs are more common in females than in males. Studies show that half of women have at least 1 urinary tract infection in their lifetime and 1 in every 3 women have a UTI before they are 24 years old. Generally women are more susceptible to urinary tract infections than men.

Sexual intercourse

Women who are active sexually are more likely to contract a UTI.

Female anatomy

A woman’s urethra is shorter compared to that of a man, making the possibility of an infection getting to the bladder greater. The opening of a woman’s urethra is nearer to the anus thus increasing the risk of bacteria from the anus entering the urethra.


Older women in menopause are more likely to have a UTI than younger women. This is because, during menopause their urethra lining gets thinner due to the drop in estrogen levels. The thinner the lining the higher the possibility of a UTI.

Illnesses and health problems

Chronic illnesses that weaken the immune system and kidney problems like kidney stones increase the possibility of developing UTIs.


In minor cases, where there are typical cystitis symptoms, diagnosis is easily done through asking the patient a few questions and drawing the best diagnosis from the answers. This is because cystitis and other lower urinary tract infections have a distinctive pattern of symptoms.

Further diagnosis tests need to be done in cases where the patient is male, or there is pus or blood in the urine, or if the infection is an upper UTI or if the patient is pregnant.

These tests include: urine test, intravenous urogram and cytoscopy.

Though the recurrence of a urinary tract infection is common it can be easily and effectively combated by the use of a short course of antibiotics. In complicated upper UTI cases longer antibiotic courses or intravenous antibiotics and hospitalization are recommended.

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