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Each year, urinary tract infections (UTIs) cause more than 8 million visits to healthcare providers.
A UTI is an infection in any part of the urinary system, including the urethra, bladder, ureters and kidneys. For most people, a UTI happens in the lower tract, in the urethra and bladder.
When the infection involves the bladder (also called cystitis), it is often caused by E. coli, bacteria found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The bacteria enter the urinary tract, make their way into the bladder and cause inflammation. Sexual intercourse can also result in cystitis.
Another type of UTI, called urethritis, involves an infection of the urethra. This can happen when bacteria found in the GI tract spread from the anus to the urethra. Sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea or chlamydia, can also cause urethritis.
Because women have a shorter urethra than men, they are more at risk for developing a UTI, as the bacteria has a shorter distance to travel. According to the Urology Care Foundation, about 60 percent of women and 12 percent of men will experience a UTI during their lifetime.
Certain types of birth control and menopause are also considered risk factors specific to women for developing a UTI.
Other risk factors for a UTI include blockages, such as kidney stones, in the urinary tract; having a suppressed immune system; and catheter use. You may also be at a higher risk for a UTI if you’ve recently had a urinary procedure, such as surgery or an exam of your urinary tract.
UTIs don’t always cause symptoms and may be mistaken for other conditions in older adults. Some of the more common symptoms of a UTI include:
If the UTI spreads to the upper tract and affects the kidneys, you may also experience:
If you think you have a UTI, contact your doctor. UTIs can become more serious the further they spread.
Your doctor may order tests, such as a urine culture, to diagnose a UTI. Most UTIs can be treated with antibiotics.
Left untreated, a UTI can lead to health complications, including recurrent infections, kidney damage, urethral narrowing in men and an increased risk for pregnant women in delivering low birth weight or premature infants. In some cases, a UTI can lead to a serious condition called sepsis, which can be life-threatening, particularly if the infection moves from the urethra to the kidneys.
You can take some steps to help prevent getting a UTI:
Be sure to contact your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of a UTI or if you have any concerns.
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