A urinary tract infection, also referred to as a UTI, is an infection in any part of the urinary system – this could be your kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. Although, most infections involve the lower portion of the urinary tract; meaning the bladder and the urethra.
Women are much more likely of developing a UTI than men. An infection that is centralized in your bladder can be painful and annoying. With that being said, serious consequences can develop if a UTI spreads to your kidneys. If left untreated, permanent kidney damage from an acute or chronic kidney infection (pyelonephritis) can result from an untreated UTI.
UTIs are usually treated with antibiotics prescribed by your doctor, but you can take personal steps to reduce your chances of getting a UTI in the first place.
UTI Symptoms in Women
A UTI may not always come with signs and symptoms, but when they do they may include:
- A burning sensation when urinating
- A strong, persistent urge to urinate
- Pelvic pain
- Frequent, small amounts of urine
UTIs may be overlooked or mistaken for other conditions in older female patients.
Causes of UTI in Women
A UTI typically occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra and begins to multiply within the bladder. Even though the urinary system is programmed to keep this bacteria from entering, the defenses can sometimes fail. When that happens, bacteria may have the opportunity to take hold and grow into a full-scale infection within the urinary tract.
As previously stated, the most common UTIs occur in female patients and affect the bladder and the urethra.
- Infection of the urethra (urethritis): This form of UTI can happen with GI bacteria spread from the anus to the urethra. Additionally, because the female urethra is close to the vagina, sexually transmitted infections, like herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and mycoplasma, can cause urethritis.
- Infection of the bladder (cystitis): This type of UTI is commonly caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli), a form of bacteria commonly found in the GI tract. Although, there are other situations in which other bacteria can be responsible.
Like urethritis, sexual intercourse may lead to cystitis, but being sexually active does not put you at a higher risk for developing cystitis. All women are at risk of cystitis because of their anatomy – specifically, the small distance between the urethra and anus and the urethral opening to the bladder.
Diagnosing UTI in Women
There are several tests and procedures that are used by medical professionals to correctly diagnose urinary tract infections. Those may include:
- Analysing a urine sample: Your doctor may analyze a urine sample to look for white blood cells, red blood cells, or bacteria.
- Growing urinary tract bacteria in a lab: A lab analysis of the urine is sometimes followed by a urine culture. This gives the doctor an idea of what is causing your infection and which medications are best suited.
- Scanned images of your urinary tract: If you are suffering from chronic infections that your doctor thinks may be caused by an abnormality in your urinary tract, you may be subject to an ultrasound. This allows your doctor an inside look at what may be causing the chronic infections.
Treatment for UTI in Women
In most cases, antibiotics are the first line of treatment for a UTI. Which drugs are prescribed and for how long depend on your personal health condition and the type of bacteria found in your urine.
For a simple infection, an antibiotic is prescribed and often, symptoms clear up within a few days of treatment. Although, you might need to continue antibiotics for a week or more. It is recommended that you take the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed.
For uncomplicated UTIs that occur when you are otherwise healthy, your doctor could recommend a shorter treatment period, such as taking an antibiotic for one to three days.
In the event you suffer from chronic urinary tract infections, your doctor may make certain treatment recommendations like low-dose antibiotics (sometimes six months or longer), a single dose of antibiotic after sexual intercourse if your infections are related to sexual activity, or vaginal estrogen therapy if you are postmenopausal.