- 21 November 2019
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Urinary Tract Infections – Are You at Risk?
There are some health conditions that are common or more frequent in women – among those, urinary tract infection or UTI is one such condition. One in every two women is at risk of getting UTI during their lifetime – whereas the lifetime risk of getting UTIs in men is only 12%. Owing to the proneness of women to UTIs, you must have to become cautious because your negligence may cause devastating effects in your body. However, your timely action can save you from potentially harmful consequences. To curtail your risk and avert the damaging effects of UTIs, let us understand more about UTI, its symptoms, causes, complications, diagnosis & treatment and the measures you can take to deal effectively with this condition.
Escherichia coli is a bacterium that lives in the colon and around the anus. In almost 90% of the cases, these bacteria cause urinary tract infections (UTIs). These are infectious bacteria as they enter through bloodstream or urethra into the urinary tract – which comprises of the urethra, urinary bladder, ureters and kidneys. A woman can get infected at any stage of her life. In fact, urinary tract infections are very common in women than in men. You will learn more about why UTIs are common in women in the following paragraphs. Though UTIs are less common in children and men, children, if infected, can have more severe infections.
Different types of UTIs
Lower UTIs affect the lower urinary tract – urethra and bladder and the upper UTIs affect the upper urinary tract (ureters and kidney). The infection of the urethra is called urethritis and that of the bladder is known as cystitis (lower urinary tract infections). The upper UTI mostly affects the kidneys (it is known as pyelonephritis). The infection is severe and potentially more serious (kidney damage risk is quite high). The symptoms associated with upper UTI are fever, chills, nausea and vomiting.
What causes UTIs in women?
Escherichia coli bacteria cause Urinary tract infections in human beings. In women, the infection is common – in other words, women are susceptible to UTIs – owing to their shorter urethras. The bacteria get easy access to the bladder through the shorter urethra and due to the proximity of anus to the urethra. E. coli bacteria from the large intestine escape through the anus and attack urethra – from there they travel up to the bladder. If the infection is serious and not treated in time, the bacteria continue to travel up to the kidneys through the ureter and infect both ureter and kidneys. The infection becomes more serious as the risk of kidney damage is very high. Poor personal hygiene is one of the prominent causes of UTIs in women.
What are the symptoms of UTI?
The signs and symptoms associated with urinary tract infections include burning sensation during urination, blood in urine, bad odour in urine, milky or cloudy urine; frequent urge to urinate, pain during urination. Though the urge to urinate is more, you urinate less; you may feel pressure in the stomach (lower abdomen), abdominal pain, back pain and tiredness. The symptoms associated with upper urinary tract infections include fever, nausea, chills and vomiting.
What are the complications of UTI?
Those who are recovering from a recent illness or have been hospitalized recently should take precautions as urinary tract infections can cause severe infections in them. Old women, diabetics, elderly men, individuals with acute and chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, bladder stones and general weakness and debility must have to be very cautious because the risk of infection entering into bloodstream and causing severe complications – such as kidney damage, kidney failure, blood poisoning and permanent damage to the urinary tract is very high in such cases. Even in healthy individuals and women, if urinary tract infection is not treated properly, it can cause damage to the urinary tract including kidneys and also severe problems in the rest of the body.
When to seek medical help?
Mild infection without any prominent symptoms can also become severe. In such a case, you may experience mild symptoms and those may go within a few days. But the infection can persist and makes you feel uncomfortable. Therefore, seeking medical help is always good. Pregnant women should never delay in seeking medical help as UTIs can cause complications during pregnancy. If you experience fever, chills, blood in urine, malaise, nausea and vomiting sensation, you should immediately approach your gynaecologist. Individuals with diabetes should also approach their healthcare provider immediately if they have UTIs.
How is UTI Diagnosed?
A doctor examines you and evaluates you based on your physical examination, symptoms, medical history and other lifestyle factors. If the doctor suspects urinary tract infection, she may order urine tests (urine analysis) and urine culture to confirm the diagnosis. Urine analysis will help test the urine for signs of infections such as the presence of blood, pus, epithelial cells and bacteria.
What is the treatment?
Doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat both lower and upper urinary tract infections. Even for the complicated and severe infections, antibiotics are the preferred mode of treatment. The duration of treatment depends on the severity of the condition. Urine culture and antibiotics sensitivity assays help the doctor in selecting the best antibiotics for treatment.
Care at home: Your doctor will instruct you to drink plenty of water and fluids at home. It is better if you avoid alcohol and other caffeinated beverages as they can dehydrate you.
Taking precautions is important – Especially for girls and women
There is no sufficient evidence to prove why UTIs are common in women; however, the proximity of vagina to anus and short urethra may be the cause. Therefore, drink plenty of fluids and pay attention to personal hygiene, which is also very important.
Dr T. Rajeshwari Reddy
MBBS, MS (OBG), DES (Germany), FAMS (New Delhi), PGPMAX (ISB)
Consultant Obstetrician, Gynaecologist & Laparoscopic Surgeon
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology