The urinary tract consists of organs that make, store, and get rid of urine: kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.
Kidneys make urine. Urine then flows in tubes called ureters to the bladder. From the bladder, urine leaves the body through the urethra. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are bacterial infections in any part of this tract.
The most common cause is a kind of bacteria named Escherichia coli, which is found in the intestines. Bacteria on the skin or near the anus can get into the urinary tract and move up. Women have a shorter urethra than men, so they get UTIs more often.
Bacteria also get into the tract through catheters (tubes) used during medical treatment, when stones or congenital abnormalities block the tract, or after vigorous sex. UTIs can also occur when another infection travels to the kidneys.
UTIs aren’t usually contagious, but sex can be painful during an infection and should be avoided.
Symptoms include feeling the need to urinate often, painful urination, urinating only small amounts of urine, no control of the urine flow, cloudy or foul-smelling urine, and blood or pus in urine.
If the kidneys are infected, fever and back pain may occur.
The health care provider may want to test the urine (urinalysis and urine culture). A clean-catch urine sample is needed. To get this sample, special cleaning methods are used and urination is started, stopped, and started again. If you have recurrent or persistent infections, your health care provider may order additional tests to determine if your urinary tract is normal.
Antibiotics are usually needed for 3 to 10 days. Fluid intake should be increased to help flush the urinary tract. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided. The health care provider may prescribe medicine such as phenazopyridine to relieve pain when urinating. This drug will turn urine orange. Over-the-counter pain relievers (acetaminophen, ibuprofen) may also help. Sitz baths may ease discomfort. Rest until fever and pain are gone.
No special diet is needed, but drinking juices (cranberry or prune juice) to make urine more acid may help, as can taking vitamin C; however, their efficacy is unknown and unproven. If you have frequent UTIs, your health care provider may order additional tests such as sonogram of kidneys and bladder. If a structural problem is found, surgical correction may be necessary.
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