Urinary Tract Infections - The Basics
If you think you have a urinary tract infection, please contact your healthcare professional immediately. The information in this article is not meant to replace medical advice.
As an intermittent catheter user, you may be prone to developing a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point. Here is an overview of everything you’ll need to know about UTIs - what they are, symptoms, causes and more.
What is a urinary tract infection? A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system which includes your urethra, bladder, ureters and kidneys. The urinary system functions to remove waste from your body. UTIs most commonly involve the urethra and the bladder, or the lower tract. Ureters and kidneys make up the upper tract. Ureters are tubes that move urine from the kidneys to the bladder. More serious infections can occur when a lower urinary tract infection moves up into the kidneys.
Are there different types of UTIs? An infection can happen in different parts of your urinary tract. There are 3 different types of UTIs, based on where the infection is located.
- Cystitis: an infection in the bladder. This may cause you to empty your bladder more often and it may hurt to urinate. With this infection, urine may be cloudy, foul-smelling and may contain blood. The bladder is also inflamed so you may experience pressure in your abdomen.
- Urethritis: an infection in your urethra. This can cause discharge and burning when you empty your bladder.
- Pyelonephritis: an infection in your kidneys. When an infection moves up to your kidneys from your lower tract, this can cause fever, chills, nausea, vomiting or upper back or side pain.
What are symptoms of a UTI? Mentioned above are specific symptoms to each of the different types of UTIs. You may not be able to distinguish the exact type of UTI you have without a test by your doctor but be proactive and err on the side of caution. If you experience any of the following, speak with your doctor as soon as possible:
- A burning feeling when you empty your bladder
- A frequent or intense urge to urinate, even though little comes out when cathing
- Cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange-smelling urine
- Feeling tired or achy
- Fever or chills (a sign that the infection may have reached your kidneys)
- Pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen
What causes UTIs? Urinary tract infections are mainly caused when bacteria enter the urinary tract through your urethra and begin to colonize in your bladder. Women tend to be more prone to urinary tract infections due to the length and location of their urethra. In general, women get UTIs up to 30 times more often than men do.1
Cystitis, or infection of the bladder, can be caused by bacteria found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract traveling through the urethra into the bladder. Due to the length of the female urethra and the urethral opening’s proximity to the anus, bacteria can easily enter the female urethra and get into the bladder. E. coli, a type of bacteria commonly found in the GI tract, commonly causes cystitis UTIs. Sexual intercourse may also cause cystitis, but you do not need to be sexually active in order to develop a cystitis UTI.
Urethritis, or infection of the urethra, like cystitis, can be caused by GI bacteria spreading from the anus to the urethra. Sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia and mycoplasma, can also cause urethritis. For women, urethritis can easily occur since the female urethra is shorter and the urethral opening is very close to the vagina. Men are also susceptible to urethritis through sexual contact.
Don’t panic, stay calm but be proactive.
Remember, UTIs are common. With prompt and proper attention, UTIs can easily be treated. Don’t ignore symptoms and once your UTI has been identified, follow your healthcare professional’s prescribed treatment plan.
If you think you have a urinary tract infection, or are suffering from any of these symptoms, please contact your healthcare professional immediately. This information is not meant to replace medical advice.
1. Foxman, B. (2002). Epidemiology of urinary tract infections: Incidence, morbidity, and economic costs. American Journal of Medicine; 113(Suppl. 1A): 5S-13S.