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What is a urinary tract infection?
A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is where an infective organism has managed to get into the urine and multiply. Although UTI’s are usually caused by bacteria, they can also be caused by viruses, fungi and other parasites. UTI’s can occur anywhere in the urinary tract. The urinary tract starts at the kidneys and ends at the penis or vagina.
Kidney → Ureter → Bladder → Urethra
(UPPER TRACT) (LOWER TRACT)
What does it feel like?
That depends upon what the infective organism is and where it is in your urinary tract.
The most common type of UTI is cased by a bacteria in the lower part of the urinary tract - that is to say in the bladder and urethra. When this type of infection occurs it is typical to need to urinate frequently with a feeling or incomplete emptying of the bladder. There is often an offensive smell to the urine which can also contain debris which causes the urine to look cloudy. These symptoms are usually accompanied by pain on urination which is often described as a sharp, burning or stinging feeling either in the lower part of the tummy or in the vagina / penis. Sometimes, it also causes tiredness and a general feeling of being unwell.
This type of UTI is more common in women and older people.
In the elderly, this can cause confusion and clouding of the ability to think straight.
Whilst this type of UTI is less common, it’s certainly not rare. It is cased by a bacteria in the upper part of the urinary tract - that is to say in the kidneys and or ureters. This is a more serious type of infection which can rapidly lead to an overwhelming infection.
When this type of infection occurs it is also typical to need to urinate frequently with a feeling or incomplete emptying of the bladder. There may also be an offensive smell to the urine which can also contain debris and blood.
These symptoms are usually accompanied by pain in the middle of the back that may come around to the tummy area and genitalia.
This infection is usually associated with feeling tired, generally unwell, sweats and aches.
How did I get it?
UTIs are more common in women due to the relative shortness of the urethra that passes urine from the bladder to the vagina. This literally makes it easier for bacteria to get from the outside world to the bladder where it can start to cause irritation.
UTIs are also more common in the elderly due to the relative dryness of the genitalia which is more common as we age. This makes the urinary tract easier to inhabit for bacteria.
How long will it last?
Most bacterial UTIs resolve within 3 - 5 days of starting antibiotics.
Do I need any treatment?
Depending upon your age and other medical condition we will usually choose either a three day or five day course of antibiotics.
For an upper UTI, we may need to consider admission to hospital for antibiotics to be given by a vein rather than taking tablets orally.
Is this dangerous?
Most frequently, UTIs are just an irritant. However, they can be dangerous in the elderly, those with poor immune systems and those with kidney impairment.
Upper UTIs should always be taken seriously as they can rapidly lead to overwhelming body wide infections.
Urinary tract infections
September 2018 (Dr Eggitt)