What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection—commonly known as a UTI—is an infection within some portion of your urinary system, which includes your kidneys, bladder, ureters and urethra. Infections are most frequently found in the lower tract, so either your urethra or bladder, which is why a UTI is also known as a bladder infection. If you’re a woman, your chance of having a urinary tract infection – also known as a UTI or a bladder infection – in your lifetime is fairly high. In fact, some experts say your risk is a high as 1 in 2. While men are certainly not immune to developing urinary tract infections, their anatomy makes it easier for them to fight off this infection, as their longer urethra makes it harder for bacteria to enter the bladder.
Possible Symptoms for a Urinary Tract Infection
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Cloudy urine or reddish urine
- Foul-smelling urine
- Pressure in the lower belly
- Shaking or chills
- Pain in the back or side below the ribs
Top 6 Urinary Tract Infection Causes
1. Birth Control
Certain types of birth control methods, such as spermicides, diaphragms, and condoms that are non-lubricated or contain spermicide, can increase the risk for a urinary tract infection. For instance, frequent use of diaphragms can slow the flow of urination, causing bacteria to build up, and certain condoms can cause irritation that attracts bacteria.
2. Low Fluid Intake
Not drinking enough water and other fluids throughout the day could increase the risk for a urinary tract infection. A UTI can occur when bacteria enters the bladder through the urethra, but drinking water can help eliminate bacteria from the urinary system and reduce symptoms. Drinking more water also helps prevent bacteria from sticking to bladder cells by reducing the concentration of your urine.
3. Resisting the Urge to Urinate
Holding in urine for long periods of time can lead to bacterial buildup in the urine and bladder, increasing the risk for a urinary tract infection. This risk may be heightened in pregnant women; pregnancy is a common risk factor for UTIs. Holding in urine can increase the risk for kidney disease in people with kidney disorders, enlarged prostate, and neurogenic bladder.
4. Catheter Use
Using a catheter for an extended period of time can lead to fungi and bacteria buildup that contributes to a urinary tract infection. Factors that can cause a catheter-related UTI include incontinence, inability to empty the bladder, and surgery on the prostate, bladder, or vagina. A catheter-related UTI might produce additional symptoms that include fever, chills, vomiting, flank pain, and mental changes or confusion.
5. Autoimmune Diseases
Type 1 diabetes, lupus, Celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis are just some medical conditions that can cause a urinary tract infection. Autoimmune diseases such as these weaken the body’s immune system and impair the body’s ability to ward off illness, infection, and disease. Having an autoimmune disease can increase the risk for developing a UTI.
6. Blocked Urine Flow
Urine that can’t flow freely through the bladder, urethra, or ureter can back up into the kidneys, causing severe kidney damage and urinary tract infections. Blocked urine flow is also known as obstructive uropathy, and it can induce fever, nausea, vomiting, and weight gain. Factors that can lead to blocked urine flow include kidney and bladder stones, tumors, enlarged prostate, and scar tissue in the urethra.
5 Ways to Prevent a Urinary Tract Infection
1. Drink More Liquids
Increase your intake of liquids — especially water — to reduce the concentration of your urine and flush bacteria from the urinary system. Talk to your doctor about the amount of water you should drink every day based on your health and activity level. Women are generally recommended to drink about 91 ounces of water per day, while men are urged to drink 125 ounces daily.
2. Urinate More Frequently
Urinate as soon as you feel the urge, and try to avoid holding in your urine to prevent bacteria from infecting the bladder and kidneys. Men and women should also urinate after having sex to flush out bacteria that may have entered the urethra. If there is no choice but to hold your urine due to factors such as driving or being far from a restroom, try to distract your mind until you can relieve yourself.
3. Wipe Properly
Always wipe from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement to prevent bacteria from entering the urethra. Wiping from back to front can transfer bacteria from feces to the urethra and increase the risk for a urinary tract infection. Whenever possible, take a quick shower and wash yourself following bowel movements to stay clean and avoid infection.
4. Wear Breathable Clothing
Wearing pants and underwear that are tight or made from synthetic fabrics can lead to sweating and moisture buildup around the urethra. Sweat and moisture can attract bacteria and enter the urethra under these conditions, increasing the risk for a UTI. Stick to wearing loose or breathable clothing made from cotton or materials that wick away sweat so the urethra can stay dry and clean.
5. Use Different Birth Control
Consider switching to another birth control method if your current method has caused one or more urinary tract infections. Barrier methods such as diaphragms and condoms are more commonly associated with UTIs than other birth control methods. Birth control methods less likely to increase the risk for a UTI include the vaginal ring, pills, hormonal implants, intrauterine devices, and sterilization methods such as vasectomy or tubal ligation.
Possible Urinary Tract Infection Treatment Options
- Increased water intake
Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Urinary Tract Infection Treatment
- When did you first notice symptoms?
- How severe is your pain or discomfort?
- Do your symptoms go away after urinating?
- Have you ever been treated for bladder or kidney problems in the past?
- How frequently do you urinate?
- Is there a possibility you may be pregnant? Get a pregnancy test.
- Do you also suffer low back pain or fever?
- Have you noticed blood in your urine?
- Have you ever had a urine culture?
- Are you having unusual vaginal discharge?
- Are you sexually active?
- Which birth control methods do you use?
- Do you have any known medical conditions?
- How much water do you normally drink throughout the day?
- Which medications do you currently use?
Urinary Tract Infection May Also Be Known as
- Bladder infection
- National Library of Medicine. Urinary Tract Infections. https://medlineplus.gov/urinarytractinfections.html
- National Library of Medicine. Contraception as a risk factor for urinary tract infection in Port Harcourt, Nigeria: A case control study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4565416/
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What causes UTIs & UI? https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/urinary/conditioninfo/causes
- Health News from NPR. To Reduce Risk Of Recurring Bladder Infection, Try Drinking More Water. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/10/20/558912620/to-reduce-risk-of-recurring-bladder-infection-try-drinking-more-water
- National Library of Medicine. Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Management in Women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3749018/
- National Library of Medicine. Catheter-related UTI. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000483.htm
- National Library of Medicine. Urinary tract infections and lupus erythematosus. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1754953/
- National Library of Medicine. Obstructive uropathy. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000507.htm
- The National Academies Press. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. https://www.nap.edu/read/10925/chapter/1#ii
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Bladder Infection Treatment. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-infection-uti-in-adults/treatment