The urinary tract is the body's filtering system for removal of liquid wastes. Women are especially susceptible to bacteria which may invade the urinary tract and multiply,
resulting in an infection. Although most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are not serious, they are a major burden on both the patient and the physician. Approximately 50% of all women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime, with many women having several infections throughout their lifetime. Fortunately, these infections are easily treated with antibiotics that cause the symptoms to quickly disappear. Some women seem more prone to repeated infections than others, and for them it can be a frustrating battle.
The most common cause of UTIs is bacterial organisms which reside in the vicinity of the vagina and rectum. These organisms enter the urinary tract via the urethra. Once these organisms have entered the urethra they ascend up to the bladder and, rarely can ascend up into the kidney. There are several ways bacteria can enter the urethra but one of the most common causes of UTIs in females is sexual intercourse. Those females who have multiple sexual partners and have frequent intercourse are also more prone to UTIs, compared to females who are in a monogamous relationship. There are some rare unlucky females who get a UTI every time they have intercourse.
Other causes of UTIs include keeping a full bladder for long periods before urinating. The longer the urine sits in the bladder, the weaker the bladder gets over time. As the bladder gets weak it is no longer able to contract normally and fails to empty the bladder completely. This residual urine is a common cause of UTIs. Other factors that have been associated with UTIs are pregnancy, diabetes, catheterization of the bladder and stroke.
The symptoms of UTI are usually easily identified. The majority of females will have painful urination or a burning sensation during urination. Other associated symptoms may include frequent urination and an odd ache in the lower abdomen and genital area. These symptoms generally do not spontaneously disappear unless the individual is treated.
In most cases, the treatment of UTIs is relatively simple. However, sometimes the bacteria may spread and cause a severe infection of the kidney. Unlike UTIs, infection of the kidney is a much more painful condition, associated with fevers, back pain, vomiting, and nausea; most require admission to the hospital and patients have to be given intravenous antibiotics.
The diagnosis of a UTI is straightforward. In many females the symptoms are so typical that the physician simply prescribes an antibiotic. However, the correct way to make a diagnosis is to collect a clean specimen of urine and analyze it for bacteria and the presence of white blood cells. In many cases, the patient calls the physician over the phone and describes the symptoms. The physician usually calls in a prescription and if the symptoms disappear, the diagnosis was correct and there is no need for further testing. However, if a female is pregnant, confirmation about the bacteria must be made. This is because if inadequately treated, the bacteria can cause serious complications, including a miscarriage. On the other hand, if there is no infection, the pregnant female is saved from taking any antibiotics that may potentially harm her fetus.