Urinary tract infections are relatively common and can range from slightly uncomfortable to downright debilitating. Stacie Housholder, RN, MSN, FNP-C, Parkview Virtual Health, reviews the causes and risk factors for the condition while highlighting a new resource for assessing your symptoms.
Most people refer to a urinary tract infection as a UTI, and it is one of the most frequent diagnoses in women. Roughly 1 in 3 women will have a UTI by the age of 24, and about half of all women report experiencing a UTI in their lifetime. With statistics like that, it's not surprising that most are already familiar with the signs and symptoms of this uncomfortable condition. This, however, does not exclude men from developing a UTI, though their risk level is significantly lower. One of the primary reasons men don’t experience UTIs as often as women is their anatomy. A woman's urethra is much shorter than a man's, making it easier for infections to occur.
There are many different causes of a UTI, but the most common are bacteria, which typically live in the colon or rectum and can travel to the urethra and bladder. There are also different types of UTIs – upper and lower. Lower UTIs (cystitis) are the most common. They are an infection in the bladder caused by bacteria and, most of the time, tend to be uncomplicated infections with generalized symptoms. Upper UTIs (pyelitis or pyelonephritis) are infections in the kidneys. These UTIs are more complicated and can sometimes cause more severe symptoms.
One of the most common symptoms of a UTI is the frequent and often urgent need to urinate. Other common symptoms that people report to their providers include:
- Abdominal pain
- Lower back pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Urinary incontinence
- Discomfort during urination
- Blood present in your urine
- Foul-smelling or cloudy urine
- State of confusion (seen in elderly patients)
In some cases, a person may experience more severe symptoms, such as high fever, an inability to keep food or liquid down, and intense pain. If you or a loved one experience those symptoms, you should immediately contact your primary care provider or go to the emergency department for additional medical assistance and support.
Several risk factors make some people more susceptible to developing a UTI. Some of the most common factors that could increase someone's risk of developing a UTI include:
- Sexual activity
- Recent antibiotic use
- Incomplete bladder emptying
- Abnormalities in the renal tract
- Weakened immunity (immunocompromised)
The gold standard for diagnosing a UTI is through a urinalysis and urine culture. Some providers may base their diagnosis on additional information, such as a patient's symptoms and a physical evaluation, but it's not the preferred method.
A urinalysis is a test that checks for white blood cells in the urine. White blood cells are responsible for fighting infection, so if they are present, it often suggests an infection. A urine culture is a test that uses a urine sample to grow bacteria in a laboratory. It can identify the type of bacteria causing the UTI and help determine which antibiotics are appropriate. It usually requires about 48 hours to get results.
Prevention and treatment
You may have heard of or been told about various popular precautions to prevent UTIs, like increasing fluid intake, wiping from front to back after a bowel movement, avoiding delay in urination and even drinking cranberry juice. Unfortunately, most of these suggestions are not evidence-based and are inappropriate options for preventing or treating UTIs.
In reality, antibiotics are the first option for treating UTIs. Your health, the type of UTI you have, and the specific bacteria found in your urine will help determine which medicine is the best course of treatment and how long you will need to take it.
If you are unsure about your condition, you can use the MyChart UTI Symptom Checker. Based on your responses to a series of questions, the symptom checker can quickly assess your symptoms and provide appropriate care recommendations. The free symptom checker is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for all MyChart users.
If you are new to MyChart, create an account here or call the Parkview MyChart Support Team at 855-853-0001 or 260-266-8700.