Healthy Living

What Causes a UTI?

What Causes a UTI?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are just like any other infections around the body, except these are localized in the urinary tract. The urinary tract can be divided into:

  • The lower urinary tract – comprised of the urethra and bladder
  • The upper urinary tract – comprising the kidney and ureters that connect to the bladder
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UTIs are primarily caused by the Escherichia Coli bacteria, often referred to as the E. coli bacteria.

The truth about E. coli bacteria

While the E. coli bacteria has been attributed to the development of diarrhea and the subsequent deaths of many people around the world, it is actually not terribly dangerous. In fact, E. coli bacteria is found naturally in the lower intestines of many animals, including the intestines of humans. E. coli bacteria exists in multiple strains, and only the O-104 strain of E. coli is dangerous to humans. The other strains of E. coli are harmless and abundant in the intestines of mammals.

Scientists have also been able to make use of its ease of manipulation to develop vaccines and other medicines, including insulin for diabetics. Nevertheless, it is still the E. coli bacteria that leads to UTIs in humans, so just how does that happen?

How UTIs develop

Since E. coli bacteria is abundant in the digestive system, it is harmless while it is still inside the gastrointestinal tract. However, the bacteria are also excreted through feces, and that exposes the bacteria to other body organs. The urethra is particularly close to the anus, and the bacteria are likely to enter the urethra and settle there. The same property of the E. coli bacteria so loved by scientists, its ability to rapidly reproduce, now becomes the leading cause of a UTI.

The urinary tract is not adapted to handling these bacteria, unlike the gut, so the bacteria keep multiplying in number. As their numbers grow, the bacteria move up the urethra and reach the bladder, and they keep on reproducing. The lining of the urinary tract cannot handle this infection, so it responds by becoming inflamed and swollen.

Most of the bacteria are flushed away from the urethra while urinating, but the remaining bacteria keep multiplying and that causes the classic symptoms of a UTI:

  • pain and a burning sensation or discomfort while urinating
  • cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • blood in the urine
  • lower abdominal pain
  • increased urgency in the need to urinate
  • pain before urination

As the infection keeps developing, it eventually reaches the ureters and perhaps the kidneys, at which point the condition is referred to as chronic UTI. This is a much serious level of UTI that can have dire consequences, such as infection of the kidneys and even infection spreading to the bloodstream.

Risk factors for UTIs

There are certain factors that make an individual more prone to contracting a UTI compared to another. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Sexual activity – regular sexual contact, particularly anal sex, increases the chances of getting a UTI. Sex can increase the transfer of bacteria from the bowel or the vagina into the urethra. Hence to lower this chance of getting an infection, one should empty the bladder 30minutes after having sex.
  • Poor hygiene – some hygiene practices may put someone at risk of a UTI. These include douching, using scented soaps, and using tampons or wiping from the back to front.
  • Hormonal imbalance – women are usually at a higher risk of UTIs, but the risk is even higher in pregnant and menopausal women.
  • Constipation – Due to constipation, an individual faces issues when it comes to emptying the bladder. This then results into the bacteria being trapped inside thus giving it more time to grow and cause infection. At times diarrhea also results into UTI, because bacteria which is there in the loose stool can easily pass into the vagina or the urethra. To prevent such instances one should wipe the front and back after every bowel movement. This would reduce the risk of getting infected.
  • Kidney stones – Kidney stones lead to deposits of minerals which increases the chances of getting an infection. It can lead of blockage of urinary tract giving bacteria enough space and time to grow causing infection.
  • Diabetes – When an individual’s blood sugar is high, this excess sugar is eliminated through the urine thus making it a favorable environment for the bacteria to grow. Thus worsening the situation for the individual. Hence one should keep a check on maintaining blood sugar at normal range.
  • Dehydration – Especially during the summer seasons, one should keep themselves hydrated at all times. This would not only quench the thirst but also reduce the chances of any UTI. Drinking plenty of water flushes out the bacteria which can lead to UTI or any other illness.

Appointment with the doctor –

For simple urinary tract infections your local or family doctor can get it diagnosed and treated however in situations where one experiences frequent cases or chronic infection then the individual may be referred to a specialist doctor. The ones who specializes in urinary disorders also called as urologist or the one in kidney disorders also called as nephrologist. Below are the details on how to prepare for the visit with the doctor:

  • Check with the doctor if there is anything one would need to do in advance, probably bring along a specimen of the urine sample.
  • Keep a tab and write about the details of the symptoms being experienced whether its related or not with UTI.
  • List down all the medications, supplements or vitamins one has been taking.
  • Any other questions which you may need to ask the doctor.

Below are the basic questions which one can ask the doctor:

  • Likely causes of the symptoms being experienced.
  • What factors could have been contributed to UTI?
  • Are there any tests to be performed to confirm the diagnosis?
  • Any complications pertaining to the current condition?
  • Which would be the best approach for the treatment to get it healed quickly?
  • Any steps required to reduce such occurrence?

Diagnosis of UTIs

There are various tests and procedures which are used to diagnose the causes of urinary tract infection:

  • Urine test: The doctor would first suggest to go in for a urine sample in the laboratory. This would help the doctor to look out for any white blood cells, presence of any bacteria and the red blood cells. The doctor would advise you to first clean the genital area before providing the sample. This is done to avoid any potential contamination of the sample. The genital area should be cleaned with an antiseptic pad.
  • Urine culture: At times along with carrying out a lab analysis of the urine sample, the doctor would also carry out the urine culture. By doing this test, the bacteria which is causing the infection can be determined. This would also help the doctor in prescribing the correct medicine for treatment so that it is most effective.
  • Cystoscopy: If an individual is suffering from recurrent episodes of UTI then the doctor would recommend to carry out cystoscopy. This procedure is done by using a long, thin tube which would have a lens attached to it called the cystoscope. This would help to view the inside of the bladder and urethra. The doctor would insert the cystoscope in the urethra and then pass it on through the bladder.
  • Images of the urinary tract: If an individual is experiencing frequent cases of urinary tract infection then the doctor may at times suggest for an ultrasound, a CT scan or an MRI also known as magnetic resonance imaging. Contract dyes may also be used to highlight the structures in the urinary tract.

Prevention of UTIs

It is fairly easy to prevent a UTI from occurring. One way to prevent a UTI is to urinate before and after sexual activity. This will flush out most of the bacteria that enters the urethra, preventing it from traveling to the rest of the urinary tract and multiplying. It is also important to practice good hygiene in order to prevent a UTI.

While douching may seem sanitary, this process actually removes healthy bacteria that may prevent a UTI from occurring. Also, it is best to avoid using soaps, especially scented soaps, around genitalia. Soap very often ruins the correct pH, which may contribute to bacteria growth and UTIs. For women, there are many pH-balanced cleansers that should not cause these issues.

Also, after using the restroom, it is very important that wiping occurs from front to back. Wiping from the back to the front may introduce bacteria from the anus to the urethra, and this is very likely to cause a UTI, as the urethra cannot handle this bacteria correctly. 

If these methods do not prevent a UTI, there may be another condition that needs to be treated first, so it is best to talk to your doctor. For example, hormonal imbalances may be the root cause of your UTIs, and this needs to be verified  by a doctor. The UTIs may continue when an underlying condition is present.

Treatment of UTIs

The treatment of a UTI is fairly straightforward. Once a UTI is present, it is strongly recommended that a physician is contacted. A simple urine test can verify or deny the presence of a UTI. If a UTI is present, a doctor will likely prescribe a round of antibiotics. Within a few days, the symptoms of the UTI may disappear. However, be sure to finish all of the antibiotics, as prescribed by your doctor. This will ensure that the UTI is truly gone.

While on antibiotics, it may be recommended that a probiotic is added to your daily regimen. A probiotic replenishes the system with healthy bacteria, which is necessary for a healthy digestive system. Antibiotics kill both healthy and undesired bacteria, so replacing the good bacteria may be necessary to avoid other side effects that are common with antibiotics, such as diarrhea.

Medications for simple UTI’s: Below is the list of medications which are recommended if a person is suffering from simple UTI:

  • Cephalexin (Keflex)
  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole
  • Ceftriaxone
  • Doxycycline
  • Azithromycin
  • Fosfomycin
  • Ciprofloxacin

Within few days of starting the treatment, one would notice that the symptoms would start to clear up on its own. However, one should ensure to complete the whole course of antibiotics as prescribed by the doctor.

The doctor may recommend a shorter antibiotics course for an uncomplicated UTI. The course duration completely depends on the symptoms which one is facing and any medical history linked with the person. To provide relief from the burning sensation while urinating, the doctor may recommend a pain medication called as analgesic. This would numb the bladder and urethra.

Frequent UTI Infections: If one experiences frequent infections then the doctor may provide certain recommendation such as:

  • If the infection is related to sexual activity, then the doctor would recommend a single dose of antibiotic which should be taken post the sexual activity.
  • Ensure to stay in touch with the doctor for timely self-diagnosis and treatment.
  • If one is experiencing UTI during the post-menopausal stage, then the doctor would recommend vaginal estrogen therapy.
  • In some cases, the doctor would recommend low doses of antibiotics for the initial six months or at times for a longer period.

Severe Infection: In case if a person is suffering from severe infection then the doctor would recommend to undergo treatment along with intravenous antibiotics.

Home remedies for treating UTI

As previously mentioned antibiotics tend to kill the healthy bacteria as well which in turn causes further side effects. Hence one can also go in for certain home remedies to heal UTI in a natural way. Few of these remedies wont requires you to get a prescription from the doctor, it can be done at home while you are carrying on with your treatment which is recommended by the doctor. However, for safer side it is always best to check with your doctor before trying something new, as it should not worsen the existing situation:

Home Remedies for a UTI

  • Intake of fluids: The first and foremost remedy when one is suffering from urinary tract infection is to increase the intake of water. Drinking water can flush out the infection causing bacteria. This will slowly get your health back on the recovery path. However, the amount of fluid intake should be completely on the body type and size.
  • Consume foods rich in vitamin C: When one is suffering from UTI, then start consuming foods rich in vitamin C since the more intake of vitamin C can make the urine more acidic. This would prevent the growth of bacteria in the urinary tract. One can also take in supplements of vitamin C if they have an active UTI.
  • Heat Compresses: Due to the irritation and inflammation from urinary tract infection one may experience pain, burning sensation and pressure near the pubic area. This can be comforted with the help of heating pad. The heat temperature should be set to low. One should not apply the heat pad directly on to the skin and it should be restricted to 15 minutes of use to avoid any instances of burns.
  • Shift to healthy habits: Along with medications and trying out home remedies, certain changes in lifestyle would also help to have a fast recovery from UTI and also prevent other kinds of infection. Certain lifestyle changes would include to quit smoking, one should wipe themselves clean from front to back properly, do not wear tight fitting clothes, wear loose clothing and underwear mostly cotton clothes.
  • Empty the bladder from time to time: Do not hold back on the bladder. Ensure to empty it from time to time even if it is just a small amount. One should get rid of the bacteria which causes the infection. Intake of more fluids would also allow you to go often to the bathroom to get the bladder empty.
  • Dietary changes: Certain foods can also worsen the existing condition of UTI hence one should make a note of those foods and cut it from their diet until the UTI infection is resolved completely. Caffeine, spicy food, alcohol, aerated drinks, foods with artificial sweeteners can cause more irritation to the bladder which would make it hard for the body to heal even if one is consuming medicines hence it should be cut off from the diet. One should focus more on healthy foods such as foods rich in high fiber carbohydrates which are good for digestion as well.

Final Thoughts

UTIs are not usually a dangerous condition, but it is important to avoid UTIs and seek treatment if symptoms are present. This is especially true when UTIs continue to be a problem, as UTIs can cause damage if not treated properly. Treating a UTI is very simple, and it is not invasive. Of course, it is preferable to avoid obtaining a UTI all together, so it is important to examine your lifestyle and make necessary changes.

Key Takeaways

  • Urinary tract infections are divided into infections of the lower and infections of the upper urinary tract.
  • Infections of the lower urinary tract include infections of the urethra and bladder.
  • Infections of the upper urinary tract include infections of the kidneys and ureters.