What is the urinary tract?
The urinary tract consists of two kidneys, located deep in the abdomen. The kidneys filter waste substances from the blood and excrete them asurine.
Urine travels from the kidneys in small tubes called ureters to a singlebladder which stores urine. Urine passes to the outside of the body through the urethra. In females, the urethra ends above the vagina; in males, it is contained in the penis.
What causes an infection?
A urinary tract infection is usually caused by bacteria entering the urethra. Bacteria can cause infection in any portion of the urinary tract. Infection of the bladder is called cystitis an infection in the kidney(s) iscalled pyelonephritis.
In women, the urethra is short and bacteria from the vagina and rectum can easily enter the urinary tract. Diarrhea, sexual activity, and wiping the rectal area before the urethral area after urinating can transfer bacteria into the urethra.
In men, the urethra is long and bacteria are less likely to enter the urinary tract. Urinary tract infections in males usually imply an underlying problem.
Anatomical irregularities in any part of the urinary tract can contribute to development of a urinary tract infection.
Is it an STD?
A urinary tract infection is not considered a sexually transmitted disease. It is rarely contagious, and the bacteria that cause it are different from bacteria causing sexually transmitted disease. However, some urinary tract infections may result from sexual activity.
What are the symptoms of an infection?
- Burning on urination
- The need to urinate frequently
- Urinating in small amounts
- Discolored or bloody urine
- Mid or low back pain*
- Chills, fever*
*Indicates a more serious infection
When is medical care needed?
If you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection, you should seek prompt medical attention. Other health problems (i.e. vaginitis, kidney stones) may have similar symptoms and need to be ruled out before treatment.
Findings in two urine tests, a microscopic analysis of a urine sample and a culture will show whether you have a urinary tract infection and, if so, what antibiotic will be effective.
NOTE: Do not take any antibiotics before visiting a health care professional; doing so will make diagnosis more difficult.
What can you do?
If you have a urinary tract infection there are a number of things you can do to feel better:
- TAKE THE PRESCRIBED ANTIBIOTIC exactly as instructed. If you are uncertain about any aspect of your antibiotic treatment, ask for a further explanation.
- PAIN RELIEVERS such as aspirin or acetaminophen may help bladder discomfort. Your physician or nurse practitioner may recommend a urinary pain reliever if you have a lot of pain when you urinate.
- DRINK LOTS OF LIQUIDS. This "flushes out" your urinary tract and may improve your symptoms. Many health care practitioners believe that drinking cranberry juice may be especially helpful.
- A HOT WATER BOTTLE OR HEATING PAD applied to the abdomen and/or lower back may help you feel better.
Consult Health Care Personnel:
- when you first notice symptoms.
- if your symptoms worsen or new symptoms develop after your initial visit.
- if symptoms persist more than 3 days despite treatment.
- anytime you are unsure about what to do.
A Note to Women:
There are a number of measures which, practiced regularly, can help reduce the chances of getting a urinary tract infection:
- Wipe from vaginal toward anal area (i.e. front to back)
- Urinate after sexual intercourse
- Drink lots of fluids
- Wear cotton underwear and loose clothing