Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are infections that affect the body’s drainage system for removing urine. This drainage system – the urinary tract – is made up of the kidneys, ureters (thin tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder), the bladder, and the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body).
Normally, urine is sterile. It contains fluids, salts and waste products; it does not contain bacteria or viruses. A UTI occurs when germs – usually bacteria from the digestive tract – get into the urethra and start to multiply. In fact, most UTIs are caused by E. coli bacteria, which normally live in the colon.
A UTI can affect any part of the urinary tract, causing:
- Cystitis: A bladder infection caused by germs that move up from the urethra. Bladder infections are the most common type of UTI.
- Urethritis: An infection of the urethra
- Pyelonephritis: A kidney infection; it usually occurs when an infection spreads up the urinary tract, or from a blockage in the urinary tract that causes urine to back up into the ureters and kidneys
UTIs are an extremely common health problem, especially among women. Research suggests that at least 40% to 60% of women develop a UTI during their lifetime, and most of these are bladder infections. One in 4 women is likely to have a repeat infection.
Women are more prone to UTIs mainly because of differences in their anatomy. Women have a shorter urethra than men, which means that bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to reach and infect the bladder. Plus, in women, the opening to the urethra is closer to the rectum, where the bacteria that cause bladder infections live.
Most UTIs can be effectively treated with antibiotics, and certain lifestyle changes or personal hygiene habits can help prevent a repeat infection.
Left untreated, lower UTIs (a bladder or urethra infection) can cause complications including a more serious kidney infection. What’s more, UTI symptoms can look like other conditions. For these reasons, it’s important to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and timely treatment as soon as symptoms appear.
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Urinary Tract Infections
Cooper University Health Care has a comprehensive urogynecology program that is on the forefront of care for urinary tract infections in women. Our team of fellowship-trained urogynecologists offers a full range of today’s most advanced diagnostic and treatment services, provided in a caring, sensitive manner.
- We teach the next generation of urogynecologists through a respected fellowship program—testament to the high level of clinical expertise available here
- Our urogynecologists are involved in leading-edge research, giving you access to the latest knowledge and advances in treating UTIs in women
Causes and Risk Factors for Urinary Tract Infections in Women
A UTI is caused by bacteria that gets into the urinary tract. While people of any age or gender can develop a UTI, women are at higher risk due to their anatomy, and some are more prone to getting them due to certain medical conditions or lifestyle habits. You are more likely to develop a UTI if you:
- Are sexually active
- Have gone through menopause
- Use a diaphragm or spermicide for birth control
- Have difficulty emptying your bladder completely (if you have a spinal cord injury or nerve damage around the bladder, for example)
- Have diabetes or a compromised immune system
- Recently used a urinary catheter
- Had a previous UTI
- Have an abnormality of the urinary tract, such as vesicoureteral reflux, a condition in which the flow of urine goes the wrong way
- Don’t practice good bathroom hygiene, such as wiping from back to front after a bowel movement
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections in Women
The most common symptoms of a UTI include:
- Frequent urination
- Pain or burning when urinating
- Despite a strong urge to urinate, very little urine comes out
- Urine looks dark, cloudy or red/pink in color (indicating that blood may be present)
- Uncomfortable pressure above the pubic bone
- Foul-smelling urine
- Pain in the back or side, below the ribs
- Nausea, vomiting
Treating Urinary Tract Infections in Women
Once diagnosed, treatment for UTIs is fairly straightforward and may include:
- Pain-relieving medications
- Applying heat (such as a heating pad) to help relieve pain
Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes to help prevent a future UTI:
- Drink a lot of water every day to flush bacteria out of your urinary tract
- Avoid coffee, alcohol and spicy foods, which can irritate the urinary tract
- Quit smoking since it can also irritate the urinary tract
- Drink cranberry juice; large amounts of vitamin C limit the growth of some bacteria by making urine more acidic (taking vitamin C supplements works the same way)
- Urinate when you feel the urge; don’t hold it in
- Wipe from front to back to keep bacteria around the rectum from entering the vagina or urethra
- Take showers instead of baths
- Clean the genital area before and after sex, and urinate as soon as possible after sex
- Do not use feminine hygiene sprays or scented douches
- Wear “breathable” cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes to help keep the area around the urethra dry, especially at night. Tight clothes and synthetic underwear can trap moisture, promoting bacterial growth.