Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Jan 17, 2024


- Dr. Yogesh Taneja, Urologist

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that can affect any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. While most UTIs involve the lower urinary tract- the bladder and urethra- women are more prone to developing UTIs than men. Although a bladder infection can be painful and bothersome, serious health problems can arise if the infection spreads to the kidneys.

Causes of UTIs: UTIs typically occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and start spreading in the bladder. Despite the urinary system's defences, sometimes bacteria overcome these defences and cause a full-blown infection. The most common UTIs primarily affect women and target the bladder and urethra. 

There are two main types:

  1. Bladder Infection (Cystitis)
  • Usually caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli), a bacteria type commonly found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
  • Sexual activity can contribute to bladder infections, but sexual inactivity doesn't guarantee immunity. Women, in general, are at risk due to their anatomy, with the urethra being close to the anus, making it easier for bacteria to enter the urethra and reach the bladder.
  1. Urethra Infection (Urethritis)
  • Can occur when GI bacteria spread from the anus to the urethra.
  • Sexually transmitted infections, including herpes, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and mycoplasma, can also cause urethra infections, especially in women due to the proximity of the urethra to the vagina.

Risk Factors for UTIs: Several factors increase the risk of UTIs, including:

  • Female Anatomy: Women have a shorter urethra, providing less distance for bacteria to travel to reach the bladder.
  • Sexual Activity: Being sexually active, especially with new partners, increases the risk of UTIs.
  • Certain Types Of Birth Control: Diaphragms and spermicidal agents can raise the risk.
  • Menopause: Changes in the urinary tract after menopause can increase susceptibility to UTIs.

Urinary tract problems, blockages, suppressed immune system, catheter use, and recent urinary procedures also contribute to the risk.

Complications of UTIs: Prompt and proper treatment of lower urinary tract infections typically prevent complications. However, if left untreated, UTIs can lead to serious health issues, including:

  • Repeated infections, especially in women.
  • Permanent kidney damage from untreated kidney infections.
  • Delivering a low birth weight or premature infant if a UTI occurs during pregnancy.
  • Narrowed urethra in men due to repeated urethral infections.
  • Sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication, if the infection ascends to the kidneys.

Prevention of UTIs: Several measures can help lower the risk of UTIs

  • Drinking plenty of liquids, especially water, to dilute urine and flush bacteria.
  • Trying cranberry juice, although scientific evidence is inconclusive.
  • Wiping from front to back after urinating and bowel movements to prevent the spread of bacteria.
  • Emptying the bladder soon after having sex and drinking a full glass of water to flush bacteria.
  • Avoiding potentially irritating feminine products, such as deodorant sprays, douches, and powders.
  • Changing birth control methods if diaphragms or condoms with spermicide contribute to bacterial growth.