Urinary Tract Infections

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A urinary tract infection (UTI) can be painful and a bit confusing, especially when you’re not sure what part of your system is affected.

To determine where an infection might be located, it’s important to know exactly how your urinary tract works.

Your Body’s Filtration System
The urinary tract is your body’s filtration and drainage system which removes waste and toxins from the body. The kidneys are bean-shaped organs that sit near the middle of your back. They are responsible for filtering wastes from the blood.

The ureters are tubes that extend from each of your kidneys and allow the waste materials, now urine to pass to the bladder. The bladder is a muscular sac that is located in the abdomen and holds urine until the nerves signal it is full. Two sphincter muscles in the bladder prevent urine from leaking.  The urethra, a tube-like structure then allows urine to pass from the bladder to the outside of the body.

When any part of the urinary tract system becomes infected it can be a painful experience.  The type of infection had a different name depending on where in the urinary tract it occurs. A bladder infection is called cystitis. An infection in the urethra is called urethritis and a kidney infection is called pyelonephritis.

Symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Depending on where the infection is located in the urinary system, the symptoms you may experience could vary.
  • Symptoms include:
  • Burning-like pain on urination
  • Cloudy urine
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Smelly urine
  • Pain or pressure in the lower back
  • Pain or pressure in the abdomen
  • Constant urge to urinate

What Causes a UTI
Numerous bacteria can cause a UTI including Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, Proteus mirabilis, Enterococcus faecalis, and Staphylococcus saprophyticus, according to the National Institutes of Health. The most common cause of a UTI, however, is the bacteria Escherichia coli, or E.coli, which normally lives in the intestines. It causes about 85% of UTI infections. Left untreated a UTI that begins in the urethra can travel throughout the urinary tract, finally impacting the kidneys.

The most common causes of a urinary tract infection include:

  • Diabetes
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Urinary catheters
  • Kidney stones
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Use contraceptive devices like a diaphragm

Treatments for UTI
If you have any of the symptoms of a UTI, your doctor may run tests to see whether you have an infection. Those tests could include a blood test to determine if your white blood cell count is high – a signal an infection is present, a urinalysis where the appearance, concentration, and content of the urine are examined, or a urine culture to determine what bacteria is causing the problem.  Once your health provider has determined an infection is present, then he or she will determine the appropriate treatment plan.

Usually, for a simple UTI, your doctor may prescribe one of the many antibiotics available such as cephalexin (Keflex®), ciprofloxacin (Cipro®), or Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactim® or Septra®). A pain medication like Phenazopyridine (Pyridium®) may also be prescribed to relieve symptoms.

What You Can Do
In addition to getting medical treatment for your UTI, it is important to make sure you take the medication as prescribed. Drinking water helps flush the bacteria from your body. And when using the bathroom, always remember to wipe front to back – especially girls and women.



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National Institutes of Health

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