How to Avoid and Understand a Urinary Tract Infection

Statistically, one in five women will experience at least one UTI infection during their lifetime. Luckily, most infections are not serious and can be treated easily with antibiotics and other medications. However, a urinary tract infection can be recurrent and sometimes re-occurs a couple of weeks after treatment. Over 19% of women who have suffered from a urinary tract infection will have another, and roughly 31% of those who have had two will have a third and over 79% of those who have had three will have a fourth. If urinary tract infections are not treated, they can lead to other more complicated health problems so they should not be ignored.

The urinary tract is composed of kidneys, ureters, the bladder and the urethra. The kidneys remove waste and water from the blood to produce urine. Urine travels through muscular canals, called ureters, to the bladder. The bladder is a globe-shaped organ composed of muscle, connective tissue and nerves that inflates as it fills with urine. Urine is then stored in the bladder until it is released from the body through the urethra. Groups of muscles from the pelvic floor and the urinary sphincters control the activity of the urethra and the neck of the bladder. These muscles must work together to hold urine in the bladder at all times until it is ready for emptying.

Urinary tract infections are caused by a variety of bacteria, most commonly Escherichia coli (E. coli), which is found in feces. In younger women, saprophyticus staphylococcus is the most common organism that causes UTIs because the vulva in the vagina and the anus are very close to each other and it is easy for the bacteria to spread to the urethra and travel through the urinary tract and into the bladder, ultimately making its way to the kidneys.

The infection occurs when the bacteria adheres to the urethral orifice and multiplies, producing an infection called urethritis. If the problem is not treated, the infection can continue spreading throughout the urinary tract, causing a type of nephrotic infection called pyelonephritis. An untreated kidney infection can lead to bacteria entering the bloodstream, this is called urinary sepsis, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate hospitalization and treatment with intravenous antibiotics.

Women whose mothers or female siblings have recurrent urinary tract infections and those who already went through menopause are also more likely to suffer from recurrent UTIs. The thinning of the vagina and urethra after menopause can make these areas less resistant to bacteria and cause more frequent urinary tract infections.

Unfortunately, contracting an infection by Escherichia coli is quite easy and can happen from common daily occurrences such as:

  • Irritation or injury to the vagina or urethra caused by intercourse

  • Douching and the use of tampons or feminine deodorants can give bacteria the chance to invade.

  • Using a diaphragm can also cause irritation and interfere with the ability of the bladder to evacuate which can encourage the propagation of bacteria.

  • Constipation can result in higher levels of E. coli bacteria in the intestine, increasing the risk of them spreading to the urinary tract if hygiene is lacking.

  • Any abnormality of the urinary tract that blocks the flow of urine, such as kidney stones or prolapse of the uterus or vagina can also lead to infection or recurrent infections.

  • Diseases that affect the immune system such as diabetes, AIDS and chronic kidney diseases increase the risk of urinary UTI.

  • Prolonged use of a permanent catheter is a common source of urinary tract infections. Intermittent catheterization is actually used to prevent recurrent infections in some patients.

Taking the above into consideration, do what’s possible to stay out of these situations to minimize your chances of a microbial infection, which can lead to UTIs and an increase in the risk of sepsis.

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