What is a urinary tract infection?

A woman’s body copes with a lot as it adapts and changes over the course of a lifetime. Apart from the familiar challenge like menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause, another one women often experience is urinary tract infections, or referred to as UTIs.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are quite common in women of all ages. In fact, the odds of a women getting one is as high as two in five. Men can also get UTIs, but it is less common with the odds rising to one in 20 during their lifetime.

Although mostly seen in adults, a small percentage of children also get UTIs and these are more likely to be serious — especially in younger children.

As the name suggests, a urinary tract infection can present itself anywhere within urinary system which comprises of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Read more about UTI on here.

Your urinary system is designed so that there is minimal risk of serious infection in the kidneys. This is done by preventing urine from flowing back up into the kidneys from the bladder.

The good news is that while urinary tract infections stay confined to the bladder and urethra, they are easily treatable and not serious or life threatening. It’s when they head toward and make it to the kidneys that a new set of problems have to be dealt with.

UTI symptoms

UTIs symptoms will differ depending whether it presents in your upper or lower urinary tract. You may have all or only some of these symptoms and you may have both upper and lower UTI symptoms at the same time. The type and severity of UTI symptoms will vary from person to person.

Common urinary tract infection symptoms include:

  • burning sensation when passing urine
  • pain in your abdomen, pelvis or back
  • general feeling of being unwell
  • passing urine much more frequently than usual
  • feeling an urge to urinate, but being unable to, or only passing a few drops
  • urinary incontinence
  • feeling like the bladder is still full after urination
  • cloudy, bloody or dark, foul smelling urine

A person with an upper urinary tract infection or kidney infection can also experience:

  • chills
  • high fever
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • loin (lower abdominal) pain
  • back pain

UTIs in young children and babies

Ensure that the child is seen by a doctor as soon as possible as it may indicate a more serious problem. Keep a look out for the following symptoms.

  • irritability
  • high fever (38°C or above)
  • new ‘wetting’ in a child who has previously been dry
  • feeding problems in babies

Causes of UTIs

The culprit in more than 90% of UTI cases is a type of bacteria called Escherichia coli, (E. coli). These bacteria normally live in the bowel and around the anus. E. coli bacteria are fairly harmless in its natural environment of the bowel. However, the bacteria will thrive when introduced to urine’s acidic state.

Urinary tract infections normally occur when E.coli bacteria get into the urine and begin to grow.

E. coli bacteria can move quite easily from the area around the anus and the perineum, to the opening of the urethra. The two most common causes of this are improper wiping and sexual intercourse. Women are more prone to UTIs because they have shorter urethras, which provide the bacteria a quicker pathway to the bladder.

The normal process of urination flushes the bacteria out through the urethra. However, if the infection has already taken hold and there are too many bacteria, urinating may not stop their spread.

Risk factors for developing UTIs

Some people are more at risk of developing UTIs than others including:

  • Sexually active women — partly because the female urethra is shorter and therefore easier for bacteria to reach the bladder
  • People with urinary catheters — particularly those too ill and those who can’t empty their own bladder
  • Diabetics — changes to the immune system make a person with diabetes more vulnerable to infection. Also, a higher sugar level in the urine makes it easier for bacteria to grow
  • Men with enlarged prostates — this can cause the bladder to only partially empty
  • Babies — especially those born with congenital abnormalities of the urinary system

Additionally, other factors that increase the likelihood of UTIs include:

  • Being pregnant
  • Having tumours or stones in the urinary tract
  • Using a diaphragm as contraception
  • Having a medical condition involving the bladder or kidneys
  • Anything that obstructs the flow of urine out of the bladder

Diagnosing a UTI

Whether your symptoms indicate an upper or lower urinary tract infection, you should seek the advice of your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor may diagnose a UTI based purely on the symptoms, or they might confirm the symptoms with a simple urine dipstick test in the rooms. A bladder scan can also be conducted to check the amount of urine still left inside the bladder. Kidney and bladder scan to check for stones, tumors, foreign body, e.g., tapes or meshes. In severe cases a cystoscopy will be done, insertion of a medical telescope to inspect the insides of the bladder and urine pipe.

UTI treatment

A prescribed antibiotic is the best course of action for UTIs. These should start clearing up the infection after a few days. 

Important! It is important to complete the entire course prescribed by your doctor, even if you are no longer experiencing symptoms of a UTI.

UTI prevention

Some helpful some tips for preventing UTIs.

  • Drink lots of water.
  • Urinate as soon as you feel the need.
  • Choose showers over baths.
  • Wipe your bottom from front to back to prevent bacteria from around the anus entering the urethra.
  • Make sure you have adequate lubrication during sex
  • Cleanse your genital area before sex.
  • Urinate after sex to flush away any bacteria that may have entered your urethra.
  • Avoid using feminine hygiene products such as sprays or douches.
  • If you use a diaphragm, ask your doctor about other forms of contraception you might use.
  • Take vitamin C or cranberry juice — they are said to be urinary antiseptics.
  • Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes

UTI prognosis

If you are experiencing urinary incontinence as a result of UTI, don’t let incontinence restrict your life! Depend highly absorbent tape or pants product protects against loss of bladder control and are expertly designed for the ultimate discreet and comfort.

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Kimberly-Clark Singapore makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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Other urinary incontinence causes

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