Healthy Living

The 3 Types of Urinary Tract Infections

The Different Types of Urinary Tract Infections: Cystitis, Kidney Infections and Urethritis

Key Takeaways

  • Cystitis is an infection of the bladder. 
  • Urethritis is an infection of the urethra.
  • Pyelonephritis is an infection of the kidneys. 

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common worldwide, among both men and women, and they can occur at all ages. However, women are more likely to develop urinary tract infections than men. A UTI is caused by a bacterial infection in the urinary tract. When bacteria enter the urinary tract, they are removed immediately by the body before they infect the body. But many times, when the body is weak, its defenses are down, and hence the bacteria manage to cause infection.

The human urinary tract consists of:

  • The kidneys – where the urine is produced
  • The ureters – there are two ureters, one on each side of the body, and their role is to transport the urine from the kidneys toward the urine bladder
  • The bladder – a sac-like organ which collects the urine produced by the kidneys
  • The urethra – a tube through which the urine produced in the kidneys and collected in the bladder is eliminated from the body

According to the anatomy of the urinary system, urinary tract infections are divided into infections of the lower part and infections of the upper part. Infections of the lower part include infections of the urethra and the bladder, while infections of the upper part include infections of the ureters and the kidneys.

Lower urinary tract infections are more common when compared to upper urinary tract infections. Their signs and symptoms are milder and the recovery is usually fast without any problems. However, lower urinary tract infections often tend to recur due to various factors.

Upper urinary tract infections usually occur due to a progression of the infection from a lower urinary tract infection. This is more likely to occur when the signs and symptoms of a lower urinary tract infection are not considered as serious and when the infection is not treated correctly. In certain cases, there is also a resistance in the treatment of lower urinary tract infections, often leading to a recurrence of these infections and their complication with infections of the upper urinary tract. Upper UTIs are more serious, as there is a risk of affecting the kidneys and, in some cases, this can also lead to kidney failure.

Some people are more prone to UTIs than others. They are:

Recurrence of infection is also very common, though more among men than women.

As mentioned, different parts of the urinary tract can get infected. When the infection is located in the bladder, it is known as cystitis. When the infection is located in the urethra, it is known as urethritis, and when the infection is located in the kidneys, it is known as pyelonephritis.

Kidney stones

Cystitis

Cystitis is a medical condition characterized by an inflammation and irritation of the bladder. Mostly the inflammation is caused by a bacterial infection. Symptoms of cystitis include: a burning sensation while urinating, a frequent need to urinate, an urgent need to urinate, passing frequent and small amounts of urine, painful urination, the presence of blood in the urine, pelvic discomfort and pain, fever, chills, strong smelling urine, cloudy urine, etc.

Cystitis is common among people of both sexes and ages, although it is women who are more prone to contract it, as they have shorter urethras. Most of the infections are caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli.

Mild cystitis will disappear within a few days. A doctor should be consulted if the symptoms are there for more than four days. Necessary tests should be done to diagnose cystitis.

A laboratory analysis of the urine accompanied by a cystoscopy and an ultrasound examination of the bladder and pelvis will help diagnose cystitis.

Antibiotics are the necessary treatment for cystitis.

Various home remedies can help, too. Painkillers to lessen the pain can be taken. Plenty of fluids should be taken to flush the bacteria out. Avoid drinking alcohol.

Urethritis

Urethritis is a medical condition characterized by inflammation and irritation of the urethra. The primary cause of urethritis is usually a bacterial infection. Both males and females can develop urethritis at any age. However, women are more likely to develop urethritis when compared to men, especially during their reproductive age. A burning sensation while urinating, a frequent need to urinate, discomfort while urinating, pain in the abdominal area, high temperature, chills, etc. are symptoms all symptoms of urethritis. Sometimes the symptoms may not be noticeable. A urine sample analysis usually is enough to diagnose the infection. Sometimes a swab is taken from the urethra for testing. Antibiotics are the necessary treatment for urethritis. The symptoms take about two to three weeks to disappear completely but results are seen a week into the treatment. If left untreated, the infection may spread to the kidneys and bladder. These infections can cause great pain.

Pyelonephritis

Pyelonephritis is a medical condition characterized by an infection of the kidneys. Pyelonephritis is caused when a urinary tract infection progresses to the upper urinary system, i.e. the kidneys and ureters. The kidneys and ureters are affected at the same time. One or both of the kidneys could be infected at the same time.

Acute pyelonephritis is usually a sudden and severe infection of the kidneys that requires immediate and correct medical treatment in order to prevent further kidney damage and complications that could lead to kidney failure. If kidneys infections recur, it is known as chronic pyelonephritis.

Symptoms of pyelonephritis include cloudy urine, a presence of pus or blood in the urine, urgent need to urinate, frequent need to urinate, painful and burning urination, high fever, abdominal pain, pelvic pain and lumbar pain, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, etc.

A laboratory analysis of the urine accompanied by an ultrasound examination of the kidneys will help diagnose pyelonephritis. 

Antibiotics are necessary when treating pyelonephritis together with symptomatic therapy.

Severely ill patients will need to be hospitalized. Medication and fluids are given intravenously until they are fit to take on their own.

Final Thoughts

There are various types of UTIs that are dependent on the location of the infection. While certain types of UTIs are more severe than others, it is important to get treatment for any type of UTI, as they are all related, and severe damage may be caused.