A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common bacteria (E. coli) infection of the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The lower urinary tract refers to just the bladder and the urethra, and an infection can develop in either of these areas.
These infections occur much more frequently in women than in men and can cause intense pain. In men, bacteria get into the urinary tract through the urethra, a tube that drains urine from the bladder through the penis. UTIs are more common in women than in men because their urethra is shorter, and the bacteria need to travel a shorter distance to reach their bladder.
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection include:
- Burning with urination
- Strong, constant urge to urinate
- Blood in the urine
- Back pain
If you are experiencing symptoms of a urinary tract infection, see your doctor right away. If left untreated, this condition can lead to kidney infections and cause permanent damage to the kidneys. A urinary tract infection can usually be treated with antibiotics.
How to prevent a urinary tract infection
Drinking a minimum of eight cups of water helps you flush out your urinary tract. Be sure to drink plenty of water daily to avoid an increased risk of developing a UTI.
Taking a bath every once in a while, can be relaxing. However, taking a shower prevents bacteria from entering the urethra, which can cause a UTI.
Scented feminine hygiene products can irritate the urethra. Instead of choosing a scented tampon or feminine hygiene spray, opt for an unscented product to decrease the risk of irritation.
When you need to urinate, do it. Women who hold in urine are more likely to develop a UTI because bacteria are more likely to develop the longer you hold it in.
Vitamin C can help neutralize the bacteria in urine, which may reduce the chance of getting a UTI. In addition to taking vitamin C supplements, drinking cranberry juice is also helpful in both lowering the chance of getting a UTI and speeding up recovery from a UTI.
Many women suffer from frequent UTIs. About 20 percent of young women with a first UTI will have a recurrent infection. With each UTI, the risk that a woman will continue having recurrent UTIs increases. Some women have three or more UTIs a year. However, very few women will have frequent infections throughout their lives. More typically, a woman will have a period of 1 or 2 years with frequent infections, after which recurring infections cease.
Men are less likely than women to have a first UTI. But once a man has a UTI, he is likely to have another because bacteria can hide deep inside prostate tissue. Anyone who has diabetes or a problem that makes it hard to urinate may have repeat infections.
Infections during pregnancy
Pregnant women seem no more prone to UTIs than other women. However, when a UTI does occur in a pregnant woman, it is more likely to travel to the kidneys. According to some reports, about 4 to 5 percent of pregnant women develop a UTI. Scientists think that hormonal changes and shifts in the position of the urinary tract during pregnancy make it easier for bacteria to travel up the ureters to the kidneys and cause infection. For this reason, health care providers routinely screen pregnant women for bacteria in the urine during the first 3 months of pregnancy.