What is Urinary Tract Infection?
Toxins and wastes are eliminated frequently from the body in the form of urine. While the kidneys help in the formation of urine, the bladder stores the same, before they are eliminated through the ureters. The complete circuit is called the Urinary Tract.
Like other parts of the body, the urinary tract is also vulnerable to infection. While other bacteria can also be responsible for this, in 80% of the cases, the culprit is E coli which are found in the gastrointestinal tract and in faeces. When E coli or other bacteria enter the urinary tract, they can cause infection in the tract, starting from the ureters and slowly moving up through the bladder and in to the kidneys. This condition is called Urinary Tract Infection or UTI.
Some of the primary risk factors for UTI are:
- Gender: Women are more vulnerable than men. One of the reasons being that the ureters are shorter in women than men, so the chances of E coli entering the ureters from the rectum are higher. Further, women who have suffered UTI once can have a relapse and contract UTI twice, thrice or multiple times.
- Age: People above 65 years of age are more at risk than younger people. This is because, with age, immunity reduces, so the body’s ability to fight UTI or infections in general reduces.
- Sexual activity: Although UTI is not contagious and cannot spread from one person to another; people who are sexually active are more at risk than those who abstain. This could be because of poor hygiene practises followed by either of the It’s not uncommon for people with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) like chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, etc to also suffer from UTI.
- Women & Reproductive health: Women who have crossed menopause and women who use contraceptives like spermicides, condoms and diaphragms are more vulnerable to UTI.
- Certain procedures: Certain procedures such as surgeries of the gastric or urinary tract can expose the person to UTI-causing bacteria. People who use catheters to drain the urine out are also more prone to infection.
- Poor hygiene: Poor hygiene or improper cleaning of oneself after urination, defecation and sexual activity increases the risk of UTI several fold. Also, holding back urine or stools for long time increases the risk, as the bacteria get more time to multiply inside the body.
- Other conditions: Spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH]), structural abnormalities of the genitourinary tract, kidney stones, severe diabetes, multiple sclerosis and uncircumcised men.
The most common form of treatment is the use of antibiotics.
In recent times, increased concern over reckless use of antibiotics has created a mentality where patients refuse antibiotics, or delay its use. While this approach may be beneficial with certain ailments, it can be disastrous when it comes to UTI.
If left untreated for long, the worsening symptoms can lead to permanent kidney damage and septic shock where some of the organs stop functioning.
So what happens if UTI treatment is delayed?
When infection of any type becomes severe, the condition is called sepsis, and similarly, when UTI becomes severe, it’s called Urosepsis. Depending on which part of the tract is infected, there are 3 types of urosepsis with their own unique name and symptoms that are common to every patient.
- Ureters (urethritis): Burning sensation while urinating, and frequent urination
- Bladder (cystitis): A feeling of pressure even after urinating, frequent and painful urination, blood in the urine and discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Kidneys (pyelonephritis): Vomiting, nausea, high fever with shivering and chills, and pain in the upper back or side (flanks).
Since UTI symptoms can vary from person to person depending on the severity of the condition, age and overall health, some of the other symptoms found are:
- Cloudy looking urine
- Foul-smelling urine
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- A feeling of being sick or unwell
- Extreme fatigue, even after simple tasks
- Reduced urine volume or no urine
- Rapid breathing or trouble in breathing
- Brain fog or being confused all the time
- Unusual anxiety levels, agitation, mood swings and depression
- Rapid heartbeat, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and palpitations
- Weak pulse
- High fever or low body temperature
- Profuse sweating
UTI is not just another infection. UTI can be contracted easily and has disastrous consequences including permanent kidney damage. Contact a reputed hospital and they will educate you on various preventive measures one can take to keep UTI at bay. It’s also important to follow good hygiene practises and live a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of UTI.