The urinary tract makes and stores urine, one of the body's liquid waste products. The urinary tract includes the following parts:
Normal urine contains no bacteria (germs). Sometimes, however, bacteria from outside the body get into the urinary tract, and cause infection and inflammation. This is a urinary tract infection. The infection can involve the urethra (a condition called urethritis), kidneys (a condition called pyelonephritis) or bladder, (a condition called cystitis). Cystitis is the most common type of urinary tract infection.
Urinary tract infections are very common, occurring in 1 out of 5 women sometime in their lifetime. One to 2% of children develop urinary tract infections. Each year, 8 million to 10 million visits to doctors are for urinary tract infections.
Anyone can get a urinary tract infection, but they are more common in women. This is because the urethra in females is shorter and closer to the anus, where E. coli bacteria are common. Older adults also are at higher risk for developing cystitis. This increased risk may be due to incomplete emptying of the bladder related to various medical conditions, including an enlarged prostate or a bladder prolapse (i.e., falling down or slipping of the bladder from its usual position). If you get frequent urinary tract infections, your doctor may do tests to check for other health problems—such as diabetes or an abnormal urinary system—that may be contributing to your infections.
A urinary tract infection causes the lining of the urinary tract to become red and irritated, which may produce some of the following symptoms:
Other symptoms that may be associated with a urinary tract infection include:
Urinary tract infections are caused by microorganisms—usually bacteria—that enter the urethra and bladder, causing inflammation and infection. The bacteria also may travel up the ureters and infect the kidneys.
More than 90 percent of cystitis cases are caused by E. coli, a bacterium normally found in the intestines.
Your doctor will use the following tests to diagnose a urinary tract infection:
If your infection does not respond to treatment or if you get repeated infections, your doctor may use the following tests to examine your urinary tract for disease or injury:
Antibiotics, medicines that kill the bacteria, are used to treat urinary tract infections. Your doctor will choose a drug that best treats the bacteria causing your infection. Commonly used antibiotics include:
It is very important that you follow your doctor's directions for taking the medicine. Do not stop taking the antibiotic because your symptoms go away and you start feeling better. If you have a history of frequent urinary tract infections, you may be given a prescription for antibiotics that you would take at the first onset of symptoms. Other patients may be given antibiotics to take every day, every other day, or after sexual intercourse to prevent the infection. If the infection is not treated completely with the full course of antibiotics, it can return.
A urinary tract infection that is not treated can lead to a more serious infection of the kidneys.
There are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing a urinary tract infection:
While urinary tract infections may be uncomfortable, they generally respond well to treatment.
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Also call if you have been diagnosed with an infection and your symptoms get worse or you develop new symptoms, especially fever, back pain and vomiting.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 07/21/2014