What is Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)? Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Urinary tract infection or UTI is an infection that affects any part of the urinary system, including the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. The ureters are tubes from the kidneys to the bladder, and the urethra is the tube by which urine is transported out of the body from the bladder.

According to the Better Health Channel in Australia:

“Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common – particularly in women, babies and older people. Around one in two women and one in 20 men will get a UTI in their lifetime.”

Causes of urinary tract infection

The main cause of UTIs is the introduction of harmful microbes such as bacteria into the urethra. We refer to harmful microbes as pathogens.

These pathogens make their way up the patient’s urinary tract until they infect the bladder. If left untreated, the infection will reach the kidneys too.

Here are some risk factors for urinary tract infections:

  • Being female. Women have a much shorter urethra, so pathogens are more likely to make their way to the bladder and kidneys.
  • Sexual activity.
  • Poor hygiene, especially among children who are potty-training.
  • An enlarged prostate and other structural problems in the urinary tract.
  • Age: infections are more common among seniors and young children.
  • Changes in the vaginal flora (changes in the bacteria that exist inside the vagina). This may be due to, for example, the menopause or the use of spermicides.
  • A previous UTI.
  • The use of catheters.
  • A weakened immune system.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of urinary tract infection vary, and typically depend on which part of the urinary tract is affected.

  • Lower UTI

When there is an infection in the bladder and urethra, the patient may urinate frequently, have lower abdominal pain, have a strong urge to urinate, and experience pain or burning during urination. The patient’s urine may be cloudy and strong-smelling.

  • Upper UTI

When there is infection in the ureters and kidneys, there may be a high fever,

Diagnosis of urinary tract infection

The doctor will examine the patient, check for signs and symptoms, and examine their medical history.

The doctor will also order a urine sample to check for the presence of bacteria, white blood cells, and red blood cells.

According to the Urology Care Foundation:

“UTIs can be found by analyzing a urine sample. The urine is examined under a microscope for bacteria or white blood cells, which are signs of infection. Your health care provider may also take a urine culture. This test examines urine to detect and identify bacteria and yeast, which may be causing a UTI.”

The doctor may also ask for imaging studies such as an MRI, a CT scan, or ultrasound. Less commonly, a cystoscopy may be necessary. A cystoscopy involves using a cystoscope, which consists of a hollow tube with a lens. The doctor inserts it into the patient’s urethra and slowly advances it into the bladder. It allows the doctor to examine the lining of the bladder.

In the English language, the word signs and symptoms do not have exactly the same meaning. A headache is a symptom. A symptom is something only the patient can feel or detect. A sign is something the patient and other people can detect, such as a skin rash.


The doctor will most likely prescribe a course of antibiotics. Which specific medication to use depends on the type of bacteria that is causing the UTI.

For uncomplicated infections, a 3-to-7-day course of antibiotics is typically sufficient. In more severe cases, however, or when there are recurrent infections, a different class of antibiotics, and a longer course of treatment, are necessary.

Make sure you complete the whole antibiotic course. Do not stop as soon as you feel better. If you do, you raise the risk of a recurrence and antibiotic resistance.

For pain and discomfort, you can take OTC painkillers. OTC stands for over the counter. OTC medications, as opposed to prescription drugs, do not require a doctor’s prescription.

Increase your fluid intake during treatment. This can help flush out the pathogens from your urinary tract.

Urinary System - Urinary Tract Infection - UTI

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Complications of urinary tract infection

Do not ignore a UTI – get treatment as soon as possible. Untreated infections can lead to serious complications. A bladder infection can make its way to the kidneys, raising the risk of developing pyelonephritis (kidney infection). Pyelonephritis can lead to permanent kidney damage.

If the UTI enters the bloodstream, you could develop sepsis, a life-threatening condition.

A pregnant woman with UTI has a higher risk of delivering her baby prematurely, and also of having a low birth-weight infant.


  • Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water. It helps dilute the urine which promotes regular urination. Regular urination helps flush out bacteria.
  • Do not hold in urine for long periods. If you do, you will be allowing bacteria to multiply in your urinary tract. Try to urinate frequently.
  • To reduce the risk of transferring bacteria from the rectal area to the urethra, women should wipe front to back after going to the toilet.
  • Urinating after sexual activity helps flush out any new bacteria that may have entered during intercourse.
  • Avoid bubble baths, douches, and harsh soaps, i.e., any substances that can irritate the urethra. An irritated urethra is much more susceptible to infection.
  • Spermicides and diaphragms raise a woman’s risk of developing.