Urinary Tract Infection: Causes, Symptoms, and Long-Term Outlook

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi that occur along your urinary tract. They are the most common infections, and they’re typically easy to treat, but can have complications. Read on to learn how to reduce your risk.

5 minute read

Last Updated July 14, 2020

Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms - Men's Health - 1MD

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi that occur anywhere along your urinary tract. The urinary tract includes your kidneys, urethra, and bladder. 

Infections are most common in the bladder and urethra, but they can happen anywhere along the tract. Urinary tract infections in the kidneys and upper urinary tract are rare, but they are also more severe. UTIs are also the most common infections in human beings.  

Urinary Tract Infection Causes

Bacteria are the most common cause of UTIs, but additional factors can increase the risk of developing an infection. Any condition or factor that reduces the bladder’s ability to empty causes irritation and potentially a UTI. 

The most commonly known risk factors include:

♦ A previous UTI
♦ Age (UTIs occur more frequently in older adults)
♦ Kidney stones
♦ Urinary tract obstructions, such as an enlarged prostate
♦ Prolonged bed rest
♦ Prolonged use of catheters
♦ Poorly controlled diabetes
♦ Weakened immune system

Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms

The symptoms of a UTI will depend on where along the tract it occurs. Symptoms of the lower tract (urethra and bladder) include:

♦ Bloody or cloudy urine
♦ Burning with urination
♦ Urine with a strong odor
The increased frequency for urination
♦ Rectal pain in men

Symptoms for upper tract infections (kidneys) include:

♦ Pain in the upper back and sides 
♦ Chills and fever
♦ Nausea and vomiting

UTIs in the upper tract can be life-threatening, so it is important to seek medical care if you suspect you have one. 

When infections move from the kidneys into your blood, you could develop urosepsis, which causes dangerously low blood pressure, shock, and even death.

Urinary Tract Infection Diagnosis

Your doctor will review your symptoms with you first and conduct a physical exam. 

A urine sample is then taken to test for microbes. It is important to use a clean-catch sample for testing, which is done midstream rather than at the beginning. This helps to eliminate bacteria or yeast from your skin. 

A large number of white blood cells in your urine indicate an infection, and a urine culture will help identify the specific microbe causing the infection. 

Special testing is required if a viral infection is suspected, but they are rare causes of UTIs. Viral UTIs are more common in those with weakened immune systems or those who have had organ transplants. 

If your doctor thinks you may have an upper tract infection, a blood count and culture is necessary to make sure the infection has not yet spread to your bloodstream through infected kidneys. 

Some individuals have recurring UTIs, and these involve additional testing to identify possible abnormalities in the tract that could be the cause. 

Testing for recurrent UTIs includes:

Ultrasounds or CT scans: detailed images of the urinary tract to reveal structural abnormalities or blockage.

Cystoscopy: removal of bladder tissue to look for inflammation and cancer
Treatment for Urinary Tract Infection

Treatment for a UTI will depend on the cause. Viral infections are treated with antiviral medications, and fungal infections are treated with antifungal medications. Bacteria are the most common cause, so antibiotics are the most common treatment for UTIs. 

Lower tract infections can be treated with oral antibiotics, while upper tract infections need intravenous antibiotics. In some cases, bacteria can develop resistance to medications, but your doctor can evaluate which medication will by taking a urine culture.

Urinary Tract Infection Diet

There is no specific diet that will treat a UTI, but there are certain foods you can add to your diet to reduce the risk of UTIs. 

Berries are full of antioxidants and ideal for keeping bacteria at bay. Cranberries are known to help with UTIs, but other berries like blueberries are also beneficial. You also want to eat plenty of yogurt because its beneficial probiotics prevent bacteria from living in your urinary tract. 

In addition to this, there are certain things to avoid when you want to prevent UTIs. If you have a UTI, you need to avoid caffeine and alcohol until the infection is cleared because these drinks can irritate your bladder. You also want to avoid acidic and spicy foods during an infection. 

Citrus fruit after an infection is great for preventing future problems because of the high vitamin C content.

Natural Treatments for Urinary Tract Infection

There are also natural remedies for UTIs that you can try at home, but it is best to check with your doctor first. These remedies should be used in conjunction with medications and not as a replacement. 

Remedies such as cranberry juice or cranberries do not treat UTIs, but they can help your body clear infection faster. A chemical in cranberries can also prevent future UTIs by preventing certain bacterial types from attaching to the lining of your bladder. 

Other home remedies you can try include: 

♦ Staying hydrated because water dilutes urine and speeds up its journey through the body

♦ Use probiotics, specifically lactobacilli. These have been found to prevent harmful bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract.

♦ Get enough vitamin C, which reacts with the nitrate in urine to form nitrogen oxide. This is known to kill bacteria.

Urinary Tract Infection Statistics

♦ UTI incidence in males younger than 50 is low, with approximately 5 to 8 cases out of 10,000 males each year.
♦ Women are 30 times more likely to develop UTIs than men.
♦ UTI incidence increases in men over the age of 60.
♦ Urgent need to urinate is predictive of 75 percent of cases of UTI.

Urinary Tract Infection and Surgery

Surgery may be recommended in cases of recurrent UTIs. A need for surgery is common in men who have prostatitis. The inflamed prostate increases pressure on the bladder, which interferes with urine flow. 

Often the same bacteria that cause prostatitis can also cause UTIs in men, so after antibiotic treatment is complete, surgery can be done to reduce the size of the prostate. Some surgeries that require the use of a catheter afterward can increase the risk for UTI. 

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

UTIs become more serious the further the infection spreads, so seeking prompt medical treatment is essential to a positive outlook. 

UTIs can be prevented by staying hydrated each day and not holding urine in for long periods of time. You can also reduce the risk by regularly including cranberries in your diet. 

Most UTIs will go away after treatment, but some can become recurrent. The same bacteria are usually the cause of recurrent infections, but in most cases, you can get rid of recurring infections too.

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