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Do I Have a Urinary Tract Infection? — an article on the Smart Living Network
October 16, 2011 at 10:06 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Do I Have a Urinary Tract Infection?


Urinary complaints are a daily problem in my practice.  Many conditions can create issues with urination.  This blog will help you sort through symptoms that you may be having moving toward determining cause.

Urinary Symptoms Terms

Before considering specific issues with urination, it is important to review the language associated. 

  • Urinary frequency is defined as the need to urinate more often.  This usually includes a smaller amount or urine produced. 
  • Dysuria is pain with urination. 
  • Urgency is the need to go immediately.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

What is a urinary tract infection? Urinary tract infections are one of the most common bacterial infections. 

What are risk factors for a urinary tract infection? They are much more common in women.  In fact, they are the most common bacterial infection in adult women with one-half of women experiencing at least one urinary tract infection in their lifetime.  Women's susceptibility to these infections are due in large part because of the short distance between the bladder and the opening of the urethra (urine tube) and it's close proximity to the anus which teems with bacteria. 

What are symptoms of a urinary tract infection? Symptoms of a simple urinary tract infection include urinary frequency and dysuria or relatively sudden onset.  Such infections are also called bladder infections or uncomplicated cystitis. 

How is a urinary tract infection diagnosed? Urinary tract infections are usually diagnosed with a urinalysis performed in a doctor's office.  This test involves checking the urine for levels of its various components and a peek under the microscope for blood, white blood cells (our body's defense against infection) and bacteria.  If a bladder infection is suspected or found, it is important that the specimin be sent to a lab for culture.  A culture will grow the offending bacteria and it will be tested against various antibiotics to ensure susceptibility.  This is important because there is a growing amount of resistance to antibiotics.  If the wrong antibiotic is chosen and only partially effective, the infection may smolder and return as a more serious infection.  Recent studies have demonstrated that some women who self-diagnose a urinary tract infection may be treated safely with a phone call to their doctor.  Women who have had uncomplicated infections in the past are usually accurate in determining whether they in fact have another episode.

What are treatments for a urinary tract infection?

  • Antibiotics for urinary tract infections. Urinary tract infections are treated for the most part with antibiotics.  Usually the couse of treatment is short (3-7 days) and the resolution of symptoms is relatively quick. 
  • Pyridium for urinary tract infections. If the pain with urination is significant, a medication called Pyridium can be given to numb the urethra with urination.  Be careful with this medication, however, because it turns urine and other secretions orange.  This can cause staining to contact lenses and they should not be used while the medication is taken.
  • Cranberry juice for urinary tract infections. Cranberry juice, while it may slow progression of infection, is not considered a valid treatment for infection.  One study showed that it took over a gallon of cranberry juice per day to sufficently acidify the urine enough to eradicate an active infection!  

How can I prevent a urinary tract infection?

Some simple measures can be taken to prevent urinary tract infections. 

  • First, keep the urine flowing. 
  • Drink plenty of fluids to promote good flow of urine.  With this practice, bacteria do not have time to grow within the urine. 
  • Because sexual intercourse can introduce bacteria into the urethra, it is good practice to urinate afterwards. 
  • Cranberry juice or pills can be taken as a preventative measure to acidify the urine, making it difficult for bacteria to reproduce in the urine.

What side effects can urinary tract infections cause? These infections can become complicated if the infection advances further inward to the kidneys (pyelonephritis) and from there into the blood streem (urosepsis).  The later complication can be life threatening. 

What are warning signs of a complication caused by urinary tract infection? Warning signs of a complicated infection include back pain in the flank (just below the ribs) and fever. 

Other Conditions That Cause Problems Urinating

Other variations of symptoms may be caused by other issues. 

  • Painful Urination and Discharge in a Man or Woman. If painful urination is accompanied by a discharge from the urethra, a venereal disease would be suspected (ghonorrhea or chlamydia). 
  • Need to Urinate Frequently at Night for a Man. If the urinary frequency exists for the most part at night (nocturia) in a man, enlargement of the prostate would be the expected cause. 
  • Need to Urinate Frequently With or Without Accidents in a Man or Woman. Urinary urgency with or without incontinence alone may be caused by a chronic condition called overactive bladder. 
  • Need to Urinate Frequently and Painful Urination in a Woman. If a woman has repeated episodes of urgency and dysuria but exam of the urine is normal the condition of interstitial cystitis could be considered.  Intersitial cystitis is a problem of inflammation within the bladder which is prone to flares from certain foods. 
  • Excessive Thirst and Increased Urine Volume in Man or Woman. When a person has an increased volume of urine accompanied by excessive thirst, concern would be raised about diabetes. 
  • Blood in the Urine. Visible blood in the urine can be seen with bladder infections but consideration would also be given to kidney stones or cancer of the bladder.

Should I See a Doctor for My Urinary Symptoms?

Doctors feel differently about whether patients should be seen and evaluated with a urinalysis and exam to diagnose and treat. These symptoms should prompt medical evaluation:

  • Fever with urinary problems.
  • Back Pain with urinary problems.
  • Child with urinary problems.
  • Frequent urinary infection.

Frequent infections warrant an evaluation to make sure that the bladder is emptying properly.  If a significant amount of urine is left in the bladder after voiding, bacteria have time to grow in the stagnant urine.

Urinary complains are common and urinary tract infections are a common cause.  Consideration of symptoms and possibly an analysis of the urine often readily leads to a diagnosis.  Remember, however, that infections can be prevented with some simple practices.

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