The urinary system is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The most important part of the urinary system are the kidneys, a pair of organs located below the ribs toward the middle of the back. The kidneys are responsible for the removal of excess liquid and wastes from the blood in the form of urine, keeping a stable balance of salts and other substances in the blood. The kidneys also produce a hormone that promotes the formation of red blood cells. Narrow tubes called ureters move the urine from the kidneys to the bladder, a sack-like organ in the lower portion of the abdomen. Urine is stored in the bladder and emptied from the body through a tube called the urethra.
Urine from a healthy person is sterile. It is usually free of fungi, bacteria, and viruses, but does contain salts, liquids, and waste products. Urinary tract infections typically are caused when microorganisms, usually bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract, come in contact with the opening of the urethra and begin to multiply. Most infections are caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli), which normally lives in the colon. For reasons that are not well understood, women are much more prone to getting urinary tract infections than men.
More often than not, bacteria first contact the urethra. When the bacteria begin to multiply, an infection is likely to occur. An infection that is confined to the urethra, it is called urethritis. If the bacteria move up the urethra to the bladder, a bladder infection, called cystitis will to occur. If the bacteria migrate up the ureters to the kidneys, a kidney infection will occur. An infection of the kidneys is called pyelonephritis. It is really important to seek medical attention as quickly as possibly, because aside from being very uncomfortable, an infection of the kidneys will make you very sick and can cause permanent kidney damage.
Urinary tract infection can also be caused, in both men and women, by the microorganisms Chlamydia and Mycoplasma. UTIs caused by the microorganism tend to remain in the urethra and reproductive system. Unlike E. coli, Chlamydia and Mycoplasma can be sexually transmitted. This means that both partners will need to be treated.
Fortunately, the urinary system is structured in a way that helps to naturally fight infection. The ureters and bladder normally prevent urine from backing up toward the kidneys, and the flow of urine from the bladder aids in washing bacteria out of the body. In men, the prostate gland produces secretions that slow the growth of bacteria. In both sexes, the immune system also fights infection. Despite the fact that the human body has all of these safeguards, infections still occur.
Not every person with a urinary tract infection will have symptoms, however most people will experience at least one or several symptoms. The symptoms that are typically associated with urinary tract infections are: frequent and urgent need to urinate, pain or burning sensation in the area of the urethra or bladder during urination. It is common for people to feel generally ill, drained, tired, shaky, and to have pain even when not urinating. It is common for a person with a UTI who needs to urinate, to only able to pass a small amount of urine at a time. The urine may also appear cloudy or reddish (if blood is present). Typically, people do not run fevers when the UTI is confined to the urethra or bladder. Running a fever can mean that the infection has reached the kidneys. Other symptoms that the infection has reached the kidneys include nausea, vomiting, and severs pain in the back area.
A urinary tract infection is diagnosed by your doctor after collecting a clean catch urine sample from you. Your doctor will likely perform a chemical dip test that tests your urine for the presence of nitrates and protein. Your doctor may then examine the urine for protein and bacteria. The bacteria may also be grown out in a petri dish and tested with different antibiotics to see which provides the best treatment for your infection. This last step is usually only performed if the infection does not clear up with the typical antibiotics, like Ciprofloxacin, that are given for UTIs. In addition to the antibiotic that is prescribed by your physician, it is extremely important to drink copious amounts of fluid. This will help your body to flush out the infection. Cranberry juice is a great liquid to drink, as is water. As is the case with any infection, it is very important that you take the entire amount of antibiotic as prescribed by your physician.