Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection
Infections along the urinary tract are called urinary tract infections. Symptoms vary greatly from person to person depending on their medical history and the location and severity of the infection. Knowing what organs make up the urinary tract and are susceptible to infection can help you understand the different types of conditions that can occur. Generally, symptoms of a urinary tract infection can develop within a day or as fast as a few hours as excess bacteria in the urinary tract become an infection. Knowing answers to what does a urinary tract infection feel like can help you identify the condition in a timely manner. So, stay on top of the condition by acting fast and seek relief once the signs of urinary tract infection show.
What Organs Make Up the Urinary Tract?
Options around how to get rid of a urinary tract infection (UTI) will depend on the location of the infection in the urinary tract. The urinary tract is made up of four types of organs that remove waste and excess water from the body. It can be split into the upper urinary tract and the lower urinary tract. These organs are:
- The kidneys (upper): are a pair of small organs that are at about waist level on each side of your body. They have multiple important functions including filtering blood to remove waste and excess water from the body as urine.
- The ureters (upper): are two thin tubes, one connected to each kidney, that transport urine from the kidney to the bladder. Ureters are about 10 inches long.
- The bladder (lower): is a saclike organ that collects and stores urine. Once the urine levels reach a point where you need to pee, the body voluntarily contracts the muscles that line the bladder.
- The urethra (lower): is a thin tube connecting the bladder to the outside of the body, which is the end of the penis in males and front of the vagina in females. While the bladder contracts to urinate, a muscle in the urethra called the urinary sphincter relaxes to remove urine from your body.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
Infections along the urinary tract have different names depending on where they are located. Generally, the higher up the tract the more severe the signs of UTI become. An infection in the urethra is called urethritis. A bladder infection is known as cystitis and kidney infections are medically known as pyelonephritis.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are generally caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract and multiplying into an infection. The bacteria that accounts for about 90 percent of all uncomplicated UTI cases is Eschericha coli, or E.coli. They are found in our digestive tract and can enter the urinary tract from improper wiping or toilet backsplash. Sometimes the signs of a UTI are a result of structural issues or blockages along the tract, including a kidney stone or inflamed prostate that is blocking the flow of urine. This can increase the risk of bacteria build up and spread. The E. coli bacterium is not the only one that can cause infections along the urinary tract. Other common sources of infection are bacteria contracted from sex including gonococcus that causes gonorrhea and chlamydia trachomatis which causes chlamydia.
Sometimes recurring UTI conditions are a result of structural or anatomic problems in the urinary tract, such as a pinched urethra. Any injury that prevents proper emptying of the bladder can also cause infections; this includes spinal cord injuries. Generally, any condition that irritates the urinary tract can lead to infection. This includes any urinary surgery or exam that involves the use of medical instruments and the extended use of catheters, which can cause incomplete urination, leading to irritation.
Common Lower Urinary Tract Infection Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of urinary tract infection will vary in every individual depending on factors such as the severity of the infection, existing health conditions, type of bacteria, and even age. When bacteria enter the urinary tract it first comes in contact with the urethra and can cause inflammation called urethritis. The common symptoms of urethritis include the frequent or urgent need to urinate; a pain during urination; and difficulty starting urination. Urethritis also causes itching, pain, or discomfort even when not urinating.
When bacteria multiply, they can spread into the bladder and develop an infection also specifically known as cystitis. The common signs of a urinary tract infection that has spread into the bladder include:
- Dark or cloudy urine
- Painful or burning urination, a condition known as dysuria
- Urgent and frequent needs to urinate
- A small amount of urine when you do go to the bathroom
- Off-smelling urine
- A mild fever that stays under 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- Chills and malaise (feeling ill and unwell)
- Pain in the abdomen
- Pressure and pain in the pelvis
Sometimes the severity of the above symptoms can range depending on a person’s specific immunity defenses. For instance, there can be complications that involve the leakage of blood. In urine, UTI signs that there is blood mixed in include a red or pinkish color accompanying the cloudy urine.
Severe UTI Symptoms and Conditions
UTI symptoms that are left untreated overtime can lead to severe symptoms, recurring infections, or complications that take more time to heal from. More severe UTI symptoms often occur when an infection has spread from the lower urinary tract to the kidneys. Symptoms of infections spreading to the kidneys include:
- Pain in your back and flanks
- Chills and shaking
- A fever that exceeds 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- Confusion, particularly in more elderly patients
- More intense feelings of general illness
Do not ignore signs of a UTI. If a kidney infection progresses enough to create an abscess in the kidney, you may require more serious treatment. Abscesses cannot be cured with antibiotics alone. To drain them, doctors will perform a nephrostomy, which involves placing a tube through your back, into the kidney.
While UTIs are generally not contagious they can lead to more serious health conditions. Other complications that can occur due to infections and leading to longer healing ties include:
- Permanent kidney damage that results in chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure, or kidney failure
- Blood poisoning, also known as septicemia, caused by bacteria spreading when the kidneys process blood for urine and return it to circulation
- Pregnancy complications such as increased risk of low birth weight
What is a Stealth UTI?
It is not unusual to have an infection develop without symptoms of urinary tract infection. This condition is called asymptomatic bacteriuria, where bacteria is present in the urine but the infection has not lead to other detectable signs and symptoms. Usually this condition does not require treatment unless there are increased risk factors that indicate a full-blown infection could occur or cause complications. While healthy adults can easily flush out enough bacteria to heal infections, those with weaker immune systems may not. Kidney transplant patients, some children, and pregnant women are recommended to take antibiotics for asymptomatic bacteriuria. Developing a UTI during pregnancy can be dangerous for both the mother and infant, making it important to check and remove any bacteria present in the urinary tract.
How Are UTIs Diagnosed?
The process to diagnose a UTI starts with the doctor asking questions regarding your symptoms and medical history. If there are symptoms and signs of infection, the doctor will often order urine samples. The samples can be used to test for the presence of bacteria, blood, and pus in the urine as well as determine whether an infection is present in the lower or upper urinary tract. A urine culture test can also be made on the sample to see what kind of bacteria is present.
In certain circumstances, other tests may be administered to help clarify the diagnosis of a UTI. Other tests include:
- Ultrasound or computerized tomography (CT) scan to check for blockages in the urinary tract; this is commonly used when treatment is ineffective for 72 hours
- Digital rectal exams (DRE) to check for swollen prostates in men
- Voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG) X-ray to find problems in the urethra and bladder
Preventative Care for Faster Relief
Generally, full-blown infections will require antibiotics to help remove the presence of bacteria in the urinary tract. Don’t rely on home remedies for urinary tract infections alone. Having said this, you can help flush out bacteria and reduce the likelihood or duration of an infection by engaging in preventative care measures such as:
- Drinking parsley juice can help flush out toxins and bacteria as it helps increase urine amounts when compared to water. This allows for more bacteria flushed during urination. Parsley also contains multiple nutrients including vitamins A, B, and C.
- Eating cabbage to prevent complications from constipation that cause irritation and skin lesions and can increase risk of infection. Cabbage is high in fiber and helps with fluid-related issues that may affect the urinary tract.
- Maintaining good personal hygiene habits to prevent bacteria from invading your body, including washing genitals, wiping front to back on the toilet, practicing safe sex, and urinating soon after sex to flush out any bacteria.
- Avoiding synthetic undergarments or tight-fitting clothes that prevent air movement and increase the likelihood of sweating that can create fertile environments for bacteria build-up around the genitals.
If you experience any symptoms of a urinary tract infection, call or book online with PlushCare to set up a phone appointment with a top U.S. doctor today.