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Urinary Tract Infection Facts You Need to Know

Urinary tract infection - adults

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection of the urinary tract. The infection can occur at different points in the urinary tract including:

  • Bladder -- an infection in the bladder is also called cystitis or a bladder infection.
  • Kidneys -- an infection of one or both kidneys is called pyelonephritis or a kidney infection.
  • Ureters -- the tubes that take urine from each kidney to the bladder are only rarely the site of infection.
  • Urethra -- an infection of the tube that empties urine from the bladder to the outside is called urethritis.

Causes

Most urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria that enter the urethra and then the bladder. The infection most commonly develops in the bladder, but can spread to the kidneys. Most of the time, your body can get rid of these bacteria. However, certain conditions increase the risk of having UTIs.

Women tend to get them more often because their urethra is shorter and closer to the anus than in men. Because of this, women are more likely to get an infection after sexual activity or when using a diaphragm for birth control. Menopause also increases the risk of a UTI.

The following also increase your chances of developing a UTI:

  • Diabetes
  • Advanced age and conditions that affect personal care habits (such as Alzheimer's disease and delirium)
  • Problems emptying the bladder completely
  • Having a urinary catheter
  • Bowel incontinence
  • Enlarged prostate, narrowed urethra or anything that blocks the flow of urine
  • Kidney stones
  • Staying still (immobile) for a long period of time (for example, while you are recovering from a hip fracture)
  • Pregnancy
  • Surgery or other procedure involving the urinary tract

Symptoms

The symptoms of a bladder infection include:

  • Cloudy or bloody urine, which may have a foul or strong odor
  • Low fever in some people
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Pressure or cramping in the lower abdomen or back
  • Strong need to urinate often, even right after the bladder has been emptied

If the infection spreads to your kidneys, symptoms may include:

  • Chills and shaking or night sweats
  • Fatigue and a general ill feeling
  • Fever above 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Pain in the side, back, or groin
  • Flushed, warm, or reddened skin
  • Mental changes or confusion (in the elderly, these symptoms often are the only signs of a UTI)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Very bad abdominal pain (sometimes)

Exams and Tests

Most of the time you will need to provide a urine sample for the following tests:

  • Urinalysis. This test is done to look for white blood cells, red blood cells, bacteria, and to test chemicals, such as nitrites in the urine. This test can diagnose an infection most of the time.
  • "Clean catch" urine culture. This test may be done to identify the bacteria and determine the best antibiotic for treatment.

Blood tests such as CBC and a blood culture may be done as well.

You may also need the following tests to help rule out other problems in your urinary system: