A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection located in the urinary tract, which includes two kidneys, two ureters, a bladder, and a urethra. UTIs can occur throughout different points of the urinary tract.
An infection in the bladder (lower urinary tract) is called a bladder infection, or cystitis. Infection of one or both kidneys (upper univary tract) is called a kidney infection, or pyelonephritis. When an infection occurs in the urethra, which is the duct that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body, it is called urethritis.
Infected ureters, which are the tubes that take urine from the kidneys to the bladder rarely occur. UTIs can be painful and develop among an average of 3 million U.S. citizens each year.
Several factors can influence the duration of a UTI, such as the number of days it takes for symptoms to occur or how long it takes for someone to see a healthcare provider. When a patient first sees a doctor for UTI symptoms, the infection can be identified in minutes with a urine sample. Urine samples look for bacteria that are present in red and white blood cells. Other forms of tests can diagnose a UTI, including blood tests, CT scans, kidney scans, or ultrasounds.
The duration of a UTI can also depend on its severity. Patients who have a mild infection, typically in the bladder, are prescribed an antibiotic designed to clear away bacteria and prevent it from spreading to the kidneys. The antibiotics usually come in pill form. Women take them an average of one to two times a day for three days while men may take them for up to two weeks. Antibiotics can start relieving symptoms and clearing up mild infections within the first 24 hours.
For more severe UTI infections, typically involving the kidneys, patients may take oral antibiotics for up to two weeks or receive fluids and antibiotics through intravenous infusion (IV) therapy.
Failure to treat a UTI can lead to permanent kidney damage. Other complications can occur, including recurrent infections, increased risk of pregnant women delivering premature infants, narrowing of the urethra, and sepsis.
Common symptoms of a UTI include:
Symptoms of an advanced UTI may include:
Some UTIs do not cause symptoms.
UTIs occur when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra. The urinary tract has defenses that work to keep microscopic bacteria out. These defenses can sometimes fail, causing bacteria to grow and multiply into an infection. Since women typically have a shorter urethra than men, more women on average develop UTIs each year.
Infection commonly first occurs in the bladder after Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria travels from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to the opening of the urethra. Both human anatomy and sexual intercourse can cause a UTI to occur. Other factors can increase the chances of developing a UTI, including, but not limited to diabetes, age, bowel incontinence, enlarged prostate or narrowed urethra, kidney stones, immobility, pregnancy, or surgery.
To help prevent a UTI, you can drink plenty of water, empty your bladder after intercourse, avoid using scented feminine products and douches, and wipe from front to back.
If you are experiencing symptoms of a UTI, you should see your healthcare provider as soon as possible. For patients in the Houston area, skip the waiting room and get medical care now from your phone or computer. Wondering how long your UTI might last? Contact us or complete an online consultation form to get started.