Urinary Tract Infection - UTI

What is it?

A UTI (sometimes called cystitis) is an infection of the urinary tract, especially the urethra and the bladder. The urethra extends from the bladder to the external part of the body (the urethral opening, where your urine comes out from). Most UTI's in young women are caused through sex, as the women's urethra is only about 3.5 cm (1- inches) as opposed to the male's urethra, which is about 20 cm (8 inches). Due to this length difference, UTI's are much more common in women due to the urethra being shorter than a mans. During sex, sometimes normal bacterial flora (from the rectum) can be pushed up into the urethral opening, or into the urethra itself, and thus causing an infection. Because the male's urethra is longer it is less likely for bacteria to be pushed up into it. A UTI can also be caused through dehydration, through loss of mobility, which can cause urinary stasis (when urine sits in the bladder for a longer period of time allowing bacteria to multiply in the bladder). Sexually transmitted diseases such as Gonorrhoea and Chlamydia can also cause infections of the urinary tract.

Symptoms

Sometimes a UTI can be asymptomatic (without symptom), however this is not usually the case.

Some symptoms include:
A burning sensation when passing urine (this sensation may still be there even if you are not passing urine).
A sensation to pass urine frequently (however you may not be able to pass the urine easily)
Urinary urgency (again you may find it difficult in passing urine).
Malaise (a feeling of uneasiness).
Low grade fever.
Nausea.
Nocturia (a need to urinate during the night).
You may find there is blood in your urine.

What to do if you think you may have a UTI

Not all these symptoms above have to be experienced to have a UTI, but if you are suffering any of these make sure you see your local doctor, especially if there is blood in your urine (this is usually a nasty little infection that can be cleared up with antibiotics).
A simple urine test can be done on the spot at your local doctors, and can diagnose whether you are suffering from a UTI. Sometime your Doctor may send another urinary sample off to a pathology laboratory for further testing. If you are found to have a UTI, your Doctor will most likely prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic that is relevant to infections of the urinary tract.

What else helps to stop the symptoms?

A behaviour that is common when suffering a UTI is to drink less fluid; this is because the individual does not want to pass urine due to the burning sensation. However this will make the burning more severe due to the urine being much more concentrated. So the best thing you can do is to drink as much water as you can (be realistic though, 2-3 litres a day is sufficient). There are also over the counter preparations from pharmacies to reduce the acidity of the urine, though these preparations are not a cure, they only help to reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Complications

Ignoring a UTI can cause complications. The infection can work it's way up and in to the kidneys and the potential for a kidney infection may occur, this can be extremely painful, and harder to cure than a simple UTI. If a kidney infection does occur and is ignored, permanent damage to the kidneys can result.

How to avoid contracting a UTI?

Go to the toilet before and especially after sex, as this will help to clear any bacterial organisms that may be in or near your urethral opening. After urination try to wipe from front to back, as doing the reverse can push bacteria towards your urethral opening. Always drink lots of fluids, this helps to keep your urinary passage clear of bacteria through regularly urinating (and it is not so concentrated). Drinking Cranberry Juice regularly has found to help to reduce the likelihood of contracting a UTI also.
Remember to never self diagnose. If you think that there is something wrong, please see your Doctor.

- Louise Ganey (RN)

MORE