Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common, but they mostly occur in women. In fact, about 60% of women will have at least one UTI during their lifetime. Infections also tend to be more common as we get older.
That said, anyone can develop a UTI, including men and children. Because even a simple UTI can quickly cause serious complications, like kidney damage, prompt treatment is essential.
At Adult and Pediatric Urology, Alfred Shtainer, MD, FACS, and our team offer advanced treatment options for UTIs in patients from Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, New York, while helping them learn strategies to prevent future infections, as well. In this post, learn how UTIs happen and what you should do if you think you have an infection.
Why UTIs happen
UTIs happen when germs enter the urinary tract and cause an infection. While UTIs can be caused by various germs, E. coli bacteria are the most common cause of urinary tract infections, typically invading the urinary tract from the anal area.
Germs enter through the urethral opening (where urine exits the body), then travel up through the urethra and into the bladder, ureters, and kidneys. When the infection occurs in your bladder, it’s called cystitis. An infection in the kidneys is called pyelonephritis.
UTIs are far more common among women primarily for two reasons: the urethra is much shorter, which makes it easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder, and the urethra and anal area are significantly closer to each other, as well.
UTIs cause a range of symptoms, including:
- Increased urgency to urinate
- Inability to completely empty your bladder
- Pain or burning when urinating
- Blood in the urine (pinkish or brownish tinge)
More severe infections can cause lower belly pain, pain in your lower back, nausea, and fever, especially if the infection reaches the kidneys.
Risk factors for UTIs
Some people are more prone to UTIs than others. In addition to female gender, other common risk factors include:
- Prior UTIs
- Use of spermicides
- Hormonal changes
- Sexual intercourse
- Older age
- Poor hygiene
- Urinary tract abnormalities
- Weakened immune system
- Catheter use
Young children, including toddlers who are potty training, are also at an increased risk.
Treating and preventing UTIs
Bacterial UTIs can be treated with antibiotics. It’s very important to take all of the prescribed antibiotics, even if you start to feel better before your prescription is gone. That’s because without the full dose, your infection can recur, which means you’ll need to begin therapy all over again.
Other types of UTIs require other types of medication. Lab tests can determine the specific pathogen that’s causing your UTI.
Less commonly, Dr. Shtainer may order diagnostic imaging to obtain images of your urinary tract. Imaging typically is ordered only when you have recurrent UTIs that don’t respond to therapy or if you have an underlying medical problem, like diabetes or a condition affecting your immune system.
While medication is important for treating UTIs so they don’t get worse, there are some things you can do on your own to prevent infections in the future:
- Urinate when you need to (don’t hold your urine)
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water
- Women and girls should always wipe front to back
- Minimize sprays or powders in the genital area
- Avoid douching
- Take showers rather than baths
- Wear cotton underwear
- Avoid wearing tight pants
It’s also important to urinate following sexual activity to help flush away germs that might otherwise enter your urinary tract.
Don’t ignore your UTI symptoms
UTIs can cause some uncomfortable symptoms, and most infections won’t clear up on their own. Without prompt medical care, they can become a lot worse, eventually damaging your kidneys.
If you have symptoms of a UTI, we can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Shtainer and our team at Adult and Pediatric Urology today.