Urinary Tract Infections
What is a urinary tract infection?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, the bladder and the urethra. The kidneys are 2 bean-shaped organs that lie against the spine in the lower back. As blood flows through the kidneys, waste is removed and stored in the bladder as urine. The bladder is the balloon-like organ that stores the urine. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder and out of the body.
How do I know if I have a urinary tract infection?
Possible signs of a urinary tract infection include the following:
Sometimes germs can grow in the urinary tract but you won’t have any of these symptoms. This is called asymptomatic bacteriuria. Your doctor can test to find out if you have this. Asymptomatic bacteriuria should be treated in pregnant women but does not need to be treated in most other women.
- A burning sensation or pain when you urinate
- Feeling like you need to urinate more often than usual
- Feeling the urge to urinate but not being able to
- Leaking a little urine
- Cloudy, dark, smelly or bloody urine
Causes & Risk Factors
What causes urinary tract infections?
UTIs are caused by bacteria (germs) that get into the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Any part of your urinary tract can become infected, but bladder and urethra infections are the most common.
Why do women get urinary tract infections more often than men?
Women tend to get urinary tract infections more often than men because bacteria can reach the bladder more easily in women. The urethra (the opening to your urinary tract) is shorter in women than in men, so bacteria have a shorter distance to travel.
The urethra is located near the rectum in women. Bacteria from the rectum can easily travel up the urethra and cause infections. Bacteria from the rectum is more likely to get into the urethra if you wipe from back to front (instead of front to back) after a bowel movement. Be sure to teach children how to wipe correctly.
Having sex may also cause urinary tract infections in women because bacteria can be pushed into the urethra. Using a diaphragm can lead to infections because diaphragms push against the urethra and make it harder to completely empty the bladder. The urine that stays in the bladder is more likely to grow bacteria and cause infections.
Frequent urinary tract infections may be caused by changes in the bacteria in the vagina. Antibacterial vaginal douches, spermicides and certain oral antibiotics may cause changes in vaginal bacteria. Avoid using these items, if possible. Menopause can also cause changes in vaginal bacteria that increase your risk for urinary tract infection. Taking estrogen usually corrects this problem, but may not be for everyone.
Other Causes of Painful Urination
What are other possible causes of painful urination?
A painful burning feeling when you urinate is often a sign of a urinary tract infection (sometimes also called a bladder infection). However, painful urination can occur even if you don’t have an infection. Certain drugs, like some used in cancer chemotherapy, may inflame the bladder. Something pressing against the bladder (like an ovarian cyst) or a kidney stone stuck near the entrance to the bladder can also cause painful urination.
Painful urination can also be caused by vaginal infection or irritation. You might be sensitive to chemicals in products such as douches, vaginal lubricants, soaps, scented toilet paper or contraceptive foams or sponges. If it hurts to urinate after you’ve used these products, you’re probably sensitive to them.
Do I need to see a doctor?
Yes. Painful urination can be a symptom of a more serious problem. You should tell your doctor about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. Tell your doctor about any medical conditions you have, such as diabetes mellitus or AIDS, because these could affect your body’s response to infection. Tell your doctor about any known abnormality in your urinary tract, or if you are or might be pregnant. Tell your doctor if you’ve had any procedures or surgeries on your urinary tract or if you were recently hospitalized (less than 1 month ago) or stayed in a nursing home.
If your doctor thinks your pain may be from vaginal inflammation, he or she may wipe the lining of your vagina with a swab to collect mucus. The mucus will be looked at under a microscope to see if it has yeast or other organisms. If your pain is from an infection in your urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder), your doctor may swab it to test for bacteria. If an infection can’t be found, your doctor may suggest other tests.
Diagnosis & Tests
What type of tests will I need to have?
Your doctor will usually be able to tell what’s causing your pain by your description of your symptoms, along with a physical exam. Testing your urine (urinalysis) can also help your doctor identify what type of infection you have. Usually, a sample of your urine is taken in your doctor’s office and sent to a lab to check for infection.