What Is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
UTIs occur in your urinary system or tract.
The urinary tract is a group of organs that produce and remove urine or pee from your body.
It includes your:
Bladder. A hollow muscular organ that holds urine.
Kidneys. Two waste-filtering organs that make pee.
Ureters. Two thin tubes that carry pee from your kidneys to your bladder.
Urethra. A tube through which pee leaves your body.
What Are the Types of Urinary Tract Infections?
You can get a UTI in any part of your urinary tract. UTIs have different names based on where the infection occurs.
Types of UTIs include:
Cystitis (bladder infection). Inflammation of the bladder is the most common organ for a UTI, especially in women.
Pyelonephritis (kidney infection). Inflamed kidneys that happens when bacteria spread to the upper part of the urinary tract.
Urethritis. Swelling of the urethra. Bacteria often cause these infections, but they can also occur due to viruses or injury to the urethra.
What Causes UTIs?
Most UTIs form when bacteria get into the urinary system through the urethra.
They may enter your urethra when you wipe your anus after you poop. Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, which can cause a UTI, live in poop.
When bacteria enter the urethra, they cause inflammation. They can travel into the ureters, bladder, and kidneys if left untreated.
What Are UTI Risk Factors and Complications?
Women are at higher risk of getting UTIs.
Women have shorter urethras than men, so bacteria have shorter distances to travel to reach the bladder. A woman's anus is also closer to her urethra, which makes it easier for bacteria to reach the urethra.
Other factors that put you at greater risk for UTIs include:
Aging. As we age, the bladder and pelvic floor muscles may weaken. Weak muscles can make it hard to fully empty your bladder, allowing bacteria to multiply.
Diabetes. Diabetes can damage your nerves. This damage can make it hard to tell when you need to pee. Urine stays in the bladder, giving bacteria time to grow.
History of UTIs. If you've had past UTIs, you're more likely to get another one.
Kidney stones. Hard, stone-like pieces that form in the kidneys can block urine flow in the ureters. These blockages allow pee to collect and bacteria to multiply.
Menopause. The hormone changes of menopause can change the tissue in a woman's vagina. These thinner, drier tissues create a setting that boosts bacteria growth.
Pregnancy. Your growing baby may put pressure on your bladder, making it hard to empty it fully.
Prostate enlargement. When a man's prostate becomes enlarged, it may cause the urethra to narrow and block urine flow. This can prevent you from fully emptying your bladder.
Sex. You and your partner may share germs that cause UTIs.
Urinary catheter. If you've had a tube placed in your urethra, bacteria may enter your urinary tract more easily.
When left untreated, UTIs can cause complications.
You may get a kidney infection. Rarely, the infection can enter your bloodstream (known as sepsis) and become a medical emergency.
In older adults, UTIs can cause symptoms such as confusion or seeing or hearing things that aren't there.
How Do I Prevent UTIs?
You can help prevent UTIs by drinking lots of water (six to eight glasses daily).
It's also vital to pee when you feel the need. Emptying your bladder fully helps keep bacteria from growing.
You can also reduce your chances of getting a UTI by wiping from front to back after you poop. If you're a woman, you should:
- Avoid tight-fitting pants and wear underwear with a cotton crotch.
- Talk with your doctor about the best birth control method for you. Spermicides may increase your risk of UTIs.
- Change out of wet bathing suits or sweaty workout clothes right away.
- Avoid douching and feminine hygiene sprays.
Why Choose UPMC Urology for UTI Care?
- Diagnose and treat all issues that affect the urinary tract.
- Assess your symptoms and create a treatment plan to help you feel better as soon as possible.