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Urinary Tract Infections - UTI

Causes - Symptoms - Treatments

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Updated June 13, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

A urinary tract infection or UTI is a bacterial infection that occurs when bacteria invade the urinary tract system; the bacteria multiply throughout the urinary track system. While the majority of urinary tract infections or UTIs are not serious, they often cause severe symptoms such as pain and/or burning upon urination.

The urinary tract system is the body's filtering system for removal of liquid waste. The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra.

About half of all women will have at least one UTI in her lifetime, while many women suffer through several infections throughout their lifetime. Women are particularly susceptible to urinary tract infections or UTI. This is because women have a shorter urinary tract than men. The good news: Infections are easily treated with antibiotics. However, some women seem prone to recurrent UTIs than others and for them it can be a frustrating battle.

What Causes Urinary Tract Infections?

The most common cause of UTIs are bacteria from the bowel that live on the skin near the rectum or in the vagina, which can spread and enter the urinary tract through the urethra. Once these bacteria enter the urethra, they travel upward, causing infection in the bladder and sometimes other parts of the urinary tract.

Sexual intercourse is a common cause of urinary tract infections because the female anatomy can make women more prone to urinary tract infections. During sexual activity, bacteria in the vaginal area are sometimes massaged into the urethra.

Women who change sexual partners or begin having sexual intercourse more frequently may experience bladder or urinary tract infections more often than women who are celibate or in monogamous relationships. Although it is rare, some women get a urinary tract infection every time they have sex.

Another cause of bladder infections or UTI is waiting too long to urinate. The bladder is a muscle that stretches to hold urine and contracts when the urine is released. Waiting too long past the time you first feel the need to urinate can cause the bladder to stretch beyond its capacity. Over time, this can weaken the bladder muscle. When the bladder is weakened, it may not empty completely and some urine is left in the bladder. This may increase the risk of urinary tract infections or bladder infections.

Other factors that also may increase a woman's risk of developing UTI include pregnancy, having urinary tract infections as a child, menopause, or diabetes.

See: 10 Ways To Prevent UTI

What Are the Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections?

Symptoms of UTI or bladder infection are not easy to miss and include a strong urge to urinate that cannot be delayed, which is followed by a sharp pain or burning sensation in the urethra when the urine is released. Most often very little urine is released and the urine that is released may be tinged with blood. The urge to urinate recurs quickly and soreness may occur in the lower abdomen, back, or sides.

This cycle may repeat itself frequently during the day or night--most people urinate about six times a day, when the need to urinate occurs more often a bladder infection should be suspected.

When bacteria enter the ureters and spread to the kidneys, symptoms such as back pain, chills, fever, nausea, and vomiting may occur, as well as the previous symptoms of lower urinary tract infection.

Proper diagnosis is vital since these symptoms also can be caused by other problems such as vaginal infections or vulva

. Only your physician can make the distinction and make a correct diagnosis.

How Is a Diagnosis of UTI Made?

The number of bacteria and white blood cells in a urine sample is the basis for diagnosing urinary tract infections. Urine is examined under a microscope and cultured in a substance that promotes the growth of bacteria. A pelvic exam also may be necessary.

Note: If you have recurrent UTIs and bladder infections, you may be interested in purchasing an at-home test for UTI, which is available over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription. The test consists of a dipstick that changes color when you have a urinary tract infection. The test detects the presence of nitrite. Bacteria changes normal nitrates in the urine to nitrite. The test, which works best on first morning urine, is about 90% reliable.

Compare Prices: At-Home UTI Test Kit

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