Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

What are urinary tract infections?

Urinary tract infections or UTIs are infections in any part of the urinary tract. They are a common health problem that affects millions of people each year. Women are especially prone to UTIs.

A UTI may affect any part of the urinary tract causing:

  • Urethritis. This is an infection of the urethra. This is the hollow tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
  • Cystitis. This is a bladder infection
    caused by germs that have moved up from the urethra.
  • Pyelonephritis. This kidney infection
    is most often caused by an infection that has spread up the urinary tract, or by a
    blockage in the urinary tract. A blockage causes urine to back up into the ureters
    and kidneys. The ureters are the hollow tubes that drain urine from the kidneys into
    the bladder.
  • Abscess. A collection of pus along
    the course of the urinary tract.

What causes urinary tract infections?

Normal urine is sterile and contains fluids, salts, and waste products. It does not contain bacteria, viruses, or fungi. A UTI happens when germs, most often bacteria from the digestive tract, get into the opening of the urethra and start to multiply.

Most UTIs are caused by E. coli bacteria, which normally live in the colon.

What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?

These are the most common symptoms of a UTI:

  • Frequent urination
  • Pain or burning when passing
    urine
  • Fever
  • Urine looks dark, cloudy, or reddish
    in color. (Blood may be present in the urine.)
  • Urine smells bad
  • Feeling pain even when not
    urinating
  • Tiredness
  • Pain in the belly (abdomen) area below
    the bellybutton, or in the back or side, below the ribs
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Have a strong urge to urinate, but
    only a small amount of urine is passed
  • Women may feel an uncomfortable
    pressure above the pubic bone
  • Older adults can have a change in their mental state, such as
    confusion or severe lethargy

The symptoms of a UTI may look like
other conditions or health problems. Always see a healthcare provider for a
diagnosis.

How are urinary tract infections diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will
review your health history and do a physical exam. Other tests may include:

  • Urinalysis. Lab testing of urine is
    done to check for various cells and chemicals. These include red and white blood
    cells, germs (such as bacteria), or protein.
  • Urine culture. This is a lab test to
    grow possible bacteria found in the urine. It can also determine which antibiotics
    are best for treatment.

If UTIs become a repeated problem, other tests may be used to see if the urinary tract is normal. These tests may include:

  • Cystoscopy. In this test, a thin,
    flexible tube and viewing device is put in through the urethra to examine the bladder
    and other parts of the urinary tract. Structural changes or blockages such as tumors
    or stones can be found.
  • Kidney and bladder ultrasound. This
    imaging test uses high-frequency sound waves to make images of the bladder and the
    kidneys on a computer screen. The test is used to determine the size and shape of the
    bladder and the kidneys, and check for a mass, kidney stone, cysts, or other
    blockages or abnormalities.
  • CT scan. This is an imaging test that
    uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan shows
    details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs.