Urinary tract infection


Overview

Urinary tract infections are a serious, but common, health problem that affects millions of people each year. Women are especially prone to urinary tract infections. It is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of women will experience a urinary tract infection at some point in their lives. A woman who has an infection has a very high chance of having another infection within a year.

Normal urine is sterile and contains fluids, salts, and waste products. It is free of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. An infection occurs when microorganisms, usually bacteria from the digestive tract, cling to the opening of the urethra, the hollow tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body, and begin to multiply.

Most infections arise from Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, which normally live in the colon.

Symptoms

The following are the most common symptoms of a urinary tract infection. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Frequent urination
  • A painful, burning feeling during urination
  • Fever
  • Urine appears cloudy or reddish in color (blood may be present in the urine)
  • Feeling pain even when not urinating
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the back or side, below the ribs
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Despite an intense urge to urinate, only a small amount of urine is passed
  • Women may feel an uncomfortable pressure above the pubic bone

The symptoms of a urinary tract infection may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult a physician for a diagnosis.

Types

A urinary tract infection may involve different sections of the urinary tract including the following:

  • Urethritis - An infection of the urethra, the hollow tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
  • Cystitis - A bacterial infection in the bladder that often has moved up from the urethra.
  • Pyelonephritis - An infection of the kidneys that is usually a result of an infection that has spread up the tract, or from an obstruction in the urinary tract. An obstruction in the urinary tract causes urine to back flow into the ureters and kidneys.
  • Abscess - A collection of pus along the course of the urinary tract.

Diagnosis

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic tests and procedures may include the following:

  • Urinalysis - Laboratory examination of urine for various cells and chemicals, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, infection, or excessive protein.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) - A series of X-rays of the kidney, ureters, and bladder with the injection of a contrast dye into the vein—to detect tumors, abnormalities, kidney stones, or any obstructions, and to assess renal blood flow.
  • Cystoscopy (also called cystourethroscopy) - An examination in which a scope, a flexible tube and viewing device, is inserted through the urethra to examine the bladder and urinary tract for structural abnormalities or obstructions, such as tumors or stones.
  • Renal ultrasound - A noninvasive test in which a transducer is passed over the kidney producing sound waves which bounce off of the kidney, transmitting a picture of the organ on a video screen. The test is used to determine the size and shape of the kidney, and to detect a mass, kidney stone, cyst, or other obstruction or abnormalities.