Urology Specialists of the Carolinas book with urinary tract infection print with medicine

If you’ve ever experienced a UTI or a urinary tract infection, you know the painful symptoms that are associated with the condition, the process your doctor goes through to diagnose the infection, the antibiotic and natural treatment options, and the measures you should take to prevent the infection from recurring.

But, chances are you’re not familiar with the actual science behind the infection– the root of the infection.

First, know that a urinary tract infection is an infection in any part of the urinary system (including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra). Most will occur in the lower parts of the urinary tract.

It’s estimated that 1 in 2 women will experience a UTI in their lifetime. That’s not to say that men can’t be diagnosed with a UTI, in fact, 20% of UTIs diagnosed are in men–women just develop them more often.

UTIs occur more frequently in women than men for a few reasons:

  1. The close proximity of a woman’s vagina and anus to the urethra, (compared to a man’s which is at the end of the penis), makes it easier for bacteria to transfer between the two areas and enter the urinary tract.
  2. Also, bacteria have a relatively short distance to travel when moving up a woman’s ureters, whereas a man’s ureters are longer and the bacteria have a harder time reaching the bladder.

Although men get less UTIs, when they are diagnosed with one it’s often more complicated than in the case of a women’s. UTIs in men are typically caused by something like a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate blocking urination.

A urinary tract infection will progress in this order:

  1. Colonization: Pathogens (generally E-coli, but could also be Proteus, Klebsiella, Enterobacter, or in few cases, staph) colonize in the urethra and further ascend towards the bladder.
  2. Uroepithelium Penetration: The pathogens penetrate the bladder and the bacteria replicates, potentially forming biofilms.
  3. Ascension: The bacteria continues ascending towards the kidneys through the ureters.
  4. Pyelonephritis: An infection of the renal parenchyma causes an inflammatory response called pyelonephritis.
  5. Acute Kidney Injury: The bacteria cascades up to the kidneys, leading to acute kidney injury.

The further the infection ascends into your urinary tract, the more serious it becomes.

Urethritis is an infection of the urethra. Symptoms are usually very mild and are often overlooked. If left untreated the infection can worsen and move towards the bladder.

Cystitis is an infection of the bladder. Symptoms can be mild to severe and include increased urinary frequency and urgency, painful urination, pain in the lower abdomen, high WBC count and bacteria in urine, cloudy or bloody urine, and strong-smelling urine. If the infection isn’t treated, it will eventually reach the kidneys.

Pyelonephritis, however, is an infection of the kidneys. Symptoms can vary but often include chills, fever, painful urination, back and side pain, vomiting, and dark, sometimes bloody urine. If you think you might have a kidney infection, you should seek care immediately. Kidney infections can cause permanent damage and sometimes lead to sepsis (a life-threatening condition).

Bacteria in the urinary tract doesn’t always cause an infection. Urination can play a huge part in flushing the bacteria out before it’s able to infect the bladder and in some cases, our bodies can fight off the bacteria itself.

To help your body further prevent UTIs:

  • Drink plenty of liquids, especially water
  • Drink cranberry juice
  • After using the bathroom, wipe from front to back (women)
  • Completely empty your bladder after intercourse
  • Avoid feminine products that irritate the urethra

Seeking medical care at the first sign of a urinary tract infection is necessary to stop further infection and prevent permanent damage. Whether you believe you have a UTI, want to find out more about UTIs, or just want to speak to a specialist about preventing UTIs in the future, reach out and schedule an appointment with one of our experienced specialists.