Thursday, 7 June 2012

Urinary Tract Infections: The Basics

That burning sensation when you urinate is a classic sign of a urinary tract infection, but it's not the only way to tell if you have a UTI.

Urinary Tract Infections
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is caused by bacteria that invade the urethra, bladder, ureters, or kidneys. Usually, the term UTI refers to an infection of the lower urinary tract — and while the symptoms are painful and uncomfortable enough, an untreated UTI can lead to development of a kidney infection.

Typically, the bacteria first attach to the urethra — the short internal tube-like structure connecting the bladder to the external opening — where they grow and travel upwards to other areas of the urinary tract.

Several types of bacteria can cause UTIs, including E. coli, mycoplasma, chlamydia, and staphylococcus.

Sexual intercourse is a common cause of UTIs in women, as the movement and friction in the genital area can cause bacteria to enter the urethra. Use of a diaphragm may also lead to a UTI, as can poor hygiene, such as wiping back-to-front, which results in bacteria from the rectum reaching the urethra.

Who's at Risk for a Urinary Tract Infection?

Your body is pretty well equipped to handle bacteria, but certain factors can allow the bacteria to grow and lead to infection before the body can bring it under control. Anyone can get a urinary tract infection, from babies to adults; and both genders can be affected, although women are more likely to get UTIs than men. Risk factors for a urinary tract infection include:

    Being female
    Being sexually active
    Using a diaphragm
    Having bowel incontinence
    Being unable to move about for extended periods (such as while recovering from an injury)
    Being pregnant or diabetic
    Having a disorder that prevents complete emptying of the bladder
    Having kidney stones
    Having a urinary catheter
    Being older in age
    Living in a nursing home

8 Common Signs of a UTI

UTI symptoms can range from a little discomfort to a lot of pain — though some people may never experience any symptoms. The most common UTI symptoms include:

    Pain or a burning or stinging sensation when urinating
    A low-grade fever
    Blood in the urine
    A potent, bad smell to the urine
    Cloudy urine
    Pain, discomfort, or cramps in the low belly or back
    A persistent need to urinate, even after you've just gone
    Fatigue and shakiness

Diagnosing and Treating Your UTI

A urinary tract infection can be diagnosed by examining a clean urine sample in a laboratory to look for signs of bacteria. The urine sample must be collected "midstream" in a sterile cup after the genitals are cleaned with a disposable towelette.

Initially, your doctor may do a screening exam using a "dipstick" test; if the dipstick indicates the presence of certain cells or substances in the urine, you may have an infection. Sometimes a drop of urine is examined under a microscope to look for signs of an infection, such as an abnormal number of white blood cells. A small sample of the urine may also be placed in special containers at controlled temperatures in an attempt to grow and identify any bacteria that might be present in the urine; this is referred to as a urine culture and takes about 48 hours. Once identified, the infection can be properly treated.

Antibiotics are prescribed to treat a urinary tract infection, and the appropriate antibiotic treatment is based on the type of bacteria causing it. Most of the time, antibiotics need to be taken for about a week, but some bacteria require a longer course of antibiotics to be effective — and some only require a few days of treatment. It’s important to finish the entire prescription, and not stop when the symptoms go away.

Medications may also be given to make urination more comfortable while the antibiotics are working to destroy the bacteria.

But there are also things that you can do to manage the pain and discomfort of a UTI while waiting for those antibiotics to kick in. Try these tips to ease UTI symptoms during treatment:

    Drink lots of water and cranberry juice to flush bacteria from the system.
    Don't smoke.
    Use a heating pad to ease abdominal pain.
    Don't drink alcohol or caffeine while recovering.
    Avoid eating spicy foods to prevent urethral irritation.

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