Each year, more than 8.1 million adults — more women than men — go to the doctor because they have a urinary tract infection (UTI). Your urinary tract is the four-part pathway that makes up your urinary system. It includes:
- Kidneys: filter your blood and produce urine waste
- Ureters: tubes that carry urine from kidneys to bladder
- Bladder: collects and stores urine
- Urethra: tube that carries urine from bladder to outside your body
A UTI can affect any of the four different parts. When the infection only affects your bladder, it’s usually minor and easily treatable. However, if it spreads to your kidneys, it may create serious health consequences, and you may even need to be hospitalized.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) estimates that 20% of young adult women have recurring UTIs, infections that either don’t respond to treatment or keep coming back, even after the right treatment.
At Comprehensive Urology, with offices in the Beverly Grove area of Los Angeles, California, our team of skilled urologists provides advanced urinary tract infection diagnosis and treatments. And because we want to ensure that our patients understand their condition and what it takes to remain healthy, we’ve put together this guide to get you in the know.
The causes of and risks for UTIs
A UTI results from a bacterial infection, most often when the bacteria enter through the urethra and then multiply in the bladder.
- coli is the most common cause of bladder infections, also known as cystitis. E. coli normally inhabit the intestines of healthy individuals and cause no problems. If, however, the bacteria get out of the intestines and into the urinary tract, it can lead to infection.
The most common way for this to happen is when microscopic bits of feces enter the tract during sex. Anal sex significantly increases your UTI risk, as does switching from anal to vaginal sex without first cleaning. Infections can also develop from toilet water backsplash or by wiping improperly (back-to-front instead of front-to-back).
Infections of the urethra, known as urethritis, can be due to bacteria or sexually transmitted diseases, though the latter is much less likely.
Chronic UTIs are more common in women than men due to two different aspects of basic human anatomy.
First, the urethra is closer to the rectum in women, making it easy for rectal bacteria to reach the urethra, especially if you don’t wipe properly. Young girls get frequent UTIs because they haven’t yet learned how to wipe in the correct direction.
Second, the female urethra is shorter than the male’s, meaning the bacteria don’t have to travel as far to reach the bladder, where they can easily multiply.
In addition, certain lifestyle factors put women at extra risk of developing a chronic UTI, like using a diaphragm during sex. Since diaphragms push up against the urethra, it’s harder to fully empty your bladder, and standing urine is more likely to grow bacteria.
Another factor is the constantly changing bacterial population in the vagina. Vaginal douches, spermicides, and some oral antibiotics all change your vaginal flora, and this can lead to infection. And menopause, with its rapid hormone changes, can also alter your vaginal bacteria.
When you have a UTI affecting your bladder, symptoms include:
- Frequent urination
- Dark or bloody urine
- A burning sensation during urination
- Pain in the kidneys
- Pain in the bladder region
If the UTI spreads to your kidneys, symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- A high fever, greater than 101°F (38°C)
- Mental disorientation or confusion
Diagnosing recurring UTIs
At Comprehensive Urology, we offer four different diagnostic tools:
- High-resolution ultrasonography: uses soundwaves to create 3D pictures of the inside of your body, pinpointing abnormalities in the urinary tract and, in turn, UTIs
- Flexible cystoscopy: uses a long, thin, flexible tube with a lens to look inside your urethra and bladder; sends images back to a monitor for your doctor to see
- Rapid onsite polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing: faster and more accurate than traditional urinalysis, capable of detecting bacteria that regularly trigger UTIs; can also detect symptoms of chronic kidney disease
- Antibiotic genetic testing: allows your doctor to assess the best course of antibiotic therapy for you
Treating recurrent UTIs
For UTIs in general, a course of oral antibiotics delivered over seven days is the primary treatment.
If you have chronic UTIs, though, your doctor may prescribe long-term, low-dose antibiotics for at least a week after the initial symptoms subside; this can help prevent symptoms from recurring.
If your chronic UTIs occur with menopause, vaginal estrogen therapy may be a solution. Speak with your doctor about potential side effects.
If you’re dealing with chronic UTIs, we can help. Give Comprehensive Urology a call at 424-260-0856, or schedule your appointment online today.