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Urinary tract infections

(Copyright Parlay International)

Your body has an efficient liquid-filtering system called the urinary tract, complete with kidneys (filters), ureters (tubes), bladder (storage container) and urethra (small outer tube). Unfortunately, the urinary tract of women seems particularly prone to infection by bacteria. About one in five women will have a urinary tract infection or UTI at least once in her life.

Signs of a urinary tract infection

Somewhere along the extensive length of this urinary filter system, bacteria enter and an infection occurs. Most UTIs start in the lower urinary tract because it is the opening closest to outside the bladder. You may have a urinary tract infection if you have these symptoms:

  • A strong urge to urinate
  • Sharp pain or burning in the urethra on urination
  • Very little urine expelled
  • Urine tinged with blood
  • A need to urinate often
  • Having to urinate often at night
  • Soreness in the lower abdomen or back
  • Chills, fever, nausea (all signs of infection)

Kinds and causes of UTIs

UTIs include cystitis (bladder infection), urethritis (urethra infection) and pyelonephritis (kidney infection). UTIs may be caused by improper hygiene (bacteria from the rectum getting into the vagina), sexual intercourse, waiting too long to urinate or an inability to empty the bladder completely. If you are pregnant, past menopause, have diabetes or had UTIs as a child, you may be more likely to get a urinary tract infection.

Tell your doctor

Diagnosing the cause of a UTI early guarantees the most success with treatment. If you tell your doctor right away and totally complete the prescribed treatment, you have the best chance of avoiding a UTI in the future.

Stubborn repeaters

UTIs are known as stubborn, or recurrent, infections. They can return even a few weeks after you have taken all your medicine. Repeated infections can be frustrating, cause stress and require a lot of your time. Sometimes your doctor may prescribe a low-dose antibiotic to be taken for an extended period. He or she may also check for other reasons of recurrent UTIs, such as kidney stones, a narrowing of the tubes in your urinary tract, small pockets in the bladder wall (diverticula) or a weak bladder (cystocele). More tests may be needed to fully understand why you have repeated infections.

Prevention checklist

Follow these tips to prevent UTIs:

  • Use good personal hygiene. Try taking showers instead of baths.
  • During menstruation, change pads and tampons frequently.
  • Drink lots of fluid every day to flush out bacteria.
  • Include cranberry juice in your diet.
  • Urinate completely as soon as you feel the urge (every two to three hours) and always wipe from front to back.
  • Get the right amount of Vitamin C every day.
  • Wear undergarments with a cotton crotch and avoid tight-fitting jeans and pantyhose.
  • Wash clothes in unscented detergents.
  • Try different positions during sexual intercourse to find those less irritating to your urethra.
  • Empty your bladder after intercourse.