A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection of any part or parts of the urinary system, which includes the urethra, the bladder, the ureters, and the kidneys. Major Spencer, can you tell us about recurrent UTIs?
Sure thing, Dr. Patel. Urinary tract infections are common for women. The average woman experiences one UTI per year. UTIs are considered recurrent when they occur three or more times in a year or twice within a six-month period. Women are much more likely than men to experience a urinary tract infection, and about one in five women who have one UTI will have a recurrent infection.
UTIs can be caused by a number of different microbes, including fungi, viruses, and bacteria, but bacteria that live in the bowel are the most common cause. The vast majority of UTIs are caused by a bacterium called E. coli. Some sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia and mycoplasma, can cause a UTI in the urethra. Sexual intercourse can also introduce bacteria into the urethra and cause a UTI.
Normally, the body quickly removes bacteria in the urinary tract before an infection can occur. Urination washes microbes out of the body, and the body’s immune system naturally fights bacteria. Sometimes, however, bacteria overcome the body’s natural defenses and cause an infection.
A UTI in the urethra is called urethritis. A bladder infection is called cystitis. If the infection moves up the ureters to the kidneys, it’s called pyelonephritis. Most UTIs are not serious, but if the infection does reach the kidneys, it can lead to sepsis, permanent kidney damage, poor kidney function, high blood pressure, and other problems.
For younger women, symptoms of a UTI typically include:
- Frequent and intense urge to urinate
- Painful, burning feeling in the bladder or urethra during urination, and
- A small amount of urine
For older women, symptoms may include:
- Feeling tired, shaky, and weak
- Muscle aches
- Abdominal pain, and
- Urine that is cloudy, dark, bloody, or has a foul smell
There are simple daily habits that can help prevent UTIs. For example, drinking plenty of fluids can help flush bacteria from the system. It’s also important to urinate often and when the urge arises because bacteria can grow when urine stays in the bladder too long. You should also urinate shortly after sexual intercourse to flush away bacteria that might have entered the urethra during sex. After using the toilet, wipe from front to back, especially after a bowel movement, to keep bacteria from entering the urethra. Lastly, tight-fitting jeans and nylon underwear can trap moisture around the urethra and help bacteria grow, so try wearing cotton underwear and clothes that fit a little more loosely.