Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a huge public health problem – particularly among women, whose lifetime risk of having at least one UTI is higher than 50 percent. In women alone, the nearly 12.8 million urinary tract infections each year cost close to $2.5 billion in medical care. Adding the cost for men raises the total to $3.5 billion, while nearly $100 million is spent on 3.3 million prescriptions.
Urinary Tract Infection Causes - What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
The urinary tract, the system that produces urine and carries it out of the body, includes the kidneys (where the urine is made), the bladder (where it is stored before urination), the ureters (tubes that connect the kidney to the bladder and transport urine down into it), and urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body). A urinary tract infection (UTI) is usually caused when bacteria from the digestive tract get into the urethra, multiply, and move into the bladder. A bladder infection is by far the most common UTI. If immediately treated, it is generally not serious, though it can be uncomfortable. If not treated, the infection can travel up to the kidneys, where it can cause more serious and potentially permanent damage. Key strategies for preventing infections include drinking lots of water (some studies have also found that cranberry juice helps), urinating often and completely, and, for women, urinating immediately after sexual intercourse.
Certain factors make people susceptible to urinary tract infections. Women are believed to be more prone to bladder infections because their shorter urethras make it easier for germs to migrate into the bladder. Women are also more at risk than men after sexual intercourse, which can push bacteria into the urethra. Pregnant women are at risk of developing urinary tract infections that are asymptomatic; in addition, their urinary tract infections are more likely to travel to the kidneys. Not drinking enough fluids can increase the risk by reducing the amount of urination, which helps to clear bacteria from the system. Anyone with a condition that obstructs the flow of urine, such as a kidney or urinary stone, a congenital abnormality in children or an enlarged prostate in men, is at increased risk. Catheters placed in the urethra and bladder also make individuals more prone to urinary tract infections, as does any disorder that affects the immune system, including diabetes. Besides an enlarged prostate, risks specific to men include an uncircumcised penis, anal intercourse, and unprotected sex with a woman who has a vaginal infection.
Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms
Symptoms of a UTI can include pain or burning during urination; the need to urinate frequently and suddenly but an inability to produce more than small amounts; blood in the urine; cloudy urine; a foul odor to the urine; urinary incontinence; fever and chills; nausea and vomiting; and pain, tenderness or heaviness in the lower abdomen, pelvic area, or in the back below the ribs. urinary tract infections can also fail to produce symptoms. This condition, known as asymptomatic bacteriuria, tends to go away without treatment. However, it is particularly common in pregnant women and can cause pre-term labor or other problems if not treated. Children tend to be more likely to have fever without other symptoms. The child may also seem irritable, or have incontinence or loose bowels.
Treatment for Urinary Tract Infection
UTI is diagnosed through laboratory testing of a urine sample, though new methods are being developed for more rapid testing. A “clean-catch” urine specimen is obtained by cleansing the area around the urethral opening and collecting a urine sample in mid-stream, when it is less likely to be contaminated by bacteria in the genital area. When there are recurrent infections, further testing may be done in an effort to determine the underlying cause. Such tests may include an ultrasound and a cystoscopy. Treatment is usually a combination of antibiotics, drinking lots of fluids and urinating frequently. This cures most urinary tract infections within a couple of days (though it is usually recommended that antibiotics be taken beyond the point that the symptoms subside); more complicated infections and those involving the kidney take longer, and in some cases require hospitalization.
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