Urinary tract infections UTIs in adults are the second most common type of infection in the body, accounting for about 8.1 million visits to health care providers each year. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can occur in any part of the urinary system, such as the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. Although bladder infections are the most common type of UTI, certain factors such as age, habits, or underlying health conditions can increase the risk of developing a UTI.
For women, the lifetime risk of having a UTI is greater than 50 percent. UTIs in men are not as common as in women but can be serious when they occur.
Who is at risk for Urinary Tract Infections UTIs in Adults?
Although everyone has some risk, some people are more prone to getting UTIs than others. People with spinal cord injuries or other nerve damage around the bladder have difficulty emptying their bladder completely, allowing bacteria to grow in the urine that stays in the bladder.
Anyone with an abnormality of the urinary tract that obstructs the flow of urine—a kidney stone or enlarged prostate. People with diabetes or problems with the body’s natural defense system are more likely to get UTIs.
Sexual activity can move microbes from the bowel or vaginal cavity to the urethral opening. If these microbes have special characteristics that allow them to live in the urinary tract, it is harder for the body to remove them quickly enough to prevent infection.
Following sexual intercourse, most women have a significant number of bacteria in their urine, but the body normally clears them within 24 hours. However, some forms of birth control increase the risk of Urinary Tract Infections in Adults.
In some women, certain spermicides may irritate the skin, increasing the risk of bacteria invading surrounding tissues. Using a diaphragm may slow urinary flow and allow bacteria to multiply. Condom use is also associated with an increased risk of UTIs, possibly because of the increased trauma that occurs to the vagina during sexual activity. Using spermicides with diaphragms and condoms can increase the risk even further.
Tubes & Catheters
Catheters interfere with the body’s ability to clear microbes from the urinary tract. Bacteria travel through or around the catheter and establish a place where they can thrive within the bladder.
A person who cannot urinate in the normal way or who is unconscious or critically ill often needs a catheter for more than a few days. The Infectious Diseases Society of America recommends using catheters for the shortest time possible to reduce the risk of a UTI.
Other Female UTI Risk Factors
Women are especially prone to UTIs for anatomical reasons. Women face a much greater risk of UTIs because they have a shorter urethra. Also, a woman’s urethral opening is near sources of bacteria from the anus and vagina. This allows bacteria to reach and infect the bladder much easier.
Women who have gone through menopause are also at a greater risk for urinary tract infections. Experts attribute this to a decline in circulating estrogen which affects bacteria responsible for fighting off harmful microorganisms in the urinary system.
Urinary Tract Abnormalities
A family history of urinary tract problems increases the risk of babies being born with a urinary tract abnormality. People with urinary tract abnormalities are at a higher risk of UTIs as urine is unable to leave the body normally, or backs up.
Kidney stones, enlarged prostate, and any other issue that traps urine in the bladder can cause bacterial growth and cause infections in the urinary tract.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of a UTI in Adults?
Although UTIs don't always have signs and symptoms, when they do, the following are the most common symptoms:
- Persistent urge to urinate (urgency)
- Pain in the side, abdomen, or pelvic area
- Painful burning sensation when urinating
- Cloudy urine
- Abnormal urine color - red, bright pink, cola-colored. Look for signs of blood
Common Male UTI Symptoms
UTI symptoms in men include:
- Trouble urinating
- Burning or tingling during or after urination (dysuria)
- Cloudy urine with a strong odor
- Low-grade fever
- Frequent urination
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
Common Female UTI Symptoms
UTI symptoms in women include:
- Urge to urinate often
- Pain or burning when urinating
- Pressure in the lower abdomen
- Fatigue, shaky, confused, weak.
- This is common in older women.
- Blood in the urine. This is common in younger women, however, consider consulting with your doctor immediately.
- Fever - an indication the infection has reached your kidneys
- Urine that smells bad or looks milky
Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections UTIs in Adults
Many women suffer from frequent UTIs. About 20 percent of young women with a first UTI will have a recurrent infection. With each UTI, the risk that a woman will continue having recurrent UTIs increases.
Some women have three or more UTIs a year. However, very few women will have frequent infections throughout their lives. More typically, a woman will have a period of 1 or 2 years with frequent infections, after which recurring infections cease.
Men are less likely than women to have a first UTI. But once a man has a UTI, he is likely to have another because bacteria can hide deep inside prostate tissue.
Infections during Pregnancy
Pregnant women seem no more prone to UTIs than other women. However, when a UTI does occur in a pregnant woman, it is more likely to travel to the kidneys. According to some reports, about 4 to 5 percent of pregnant women develop a UTI.
Scientists think that hormonal changes and shifts in the position of the urinary tract during pregnancy make it easier for bacteria to travel up the ureters to the kidneys and cause a kidney infection.
When is a UTI Life Threatening?
A UTI can become life-threatening if it is left untreated and spreads to the kidneys, causing a kidney infection or sepsis (the body’s extreme response to an infection). In some cases, such as in individuals with weakened immune systems, the infection may spread to the bloodstream and cause sepsis, a serious medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. It is essential to seek prompt medical attention if you experience symptoms of sepsis.
Sepsis Signs & Symptoms
A person with sepsis might have one or more of the following signs or symptoms:
- Elevated heart rate or a weak pulse
- Confusion or disorientation
- Severe pain or discomfort
- Fever, chills, or feeling excessively cold
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin that is damp or sweaty
How Are Urinary Tract Infections UTIs in Adults diagnosed?
To find out whether a person has a UTI, the health care provider will ask about urinary symptoms and then test a urine sample/urine culture for the presence of bacteria and white blood cells, which are produced by the body to fight infection.
If a person has recurrent UTIs, the health care provider may order some additional tests to determine if the person’s urinary tract is normal.
- Kidney and bladder ultrasound
- Voiding cystourethrogram
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Radionuclide scan
How To Prevent Recurrent UTIs?
Changing some daily habits may help a person prevent recurrent UTIs.
Eating, Diet, and Nutrition
Drinking plenty of fluids can help flush bacteria from the system. Water is best. Most people should try six to eight, 8-ounce glasses a day.
Cranberry juice can help prevent UTIs. Cranberries contain tannin, which can prevent E. coli bacteria from sticking to the walls of your bladder. E. coli bacteria is the most common cause of urinary tract infections as they are responsible for about 90% of all UTI cases. E. coli is usually found naturally in the colon or around the anuses of humans and animals.
A person should urinate often and when the urge arises. Bacteria can grow when urine stays in the bladder too long. Women and men should urinate shortly after sex to flush away bacteria that might have entered the urethra during sex.
Cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes should be worn, so air can keep the area around the urethra dry.
For women, using a diaphragm or spermicide for birth control can lead to UTIs by increasing bacteria growth. A woman who has trouble with UTIs should try switching to a new form of birth control. Switching to lubricated condoms without spermicide or using a non-spermicidal lubricant may help prevent UTIs.
How Do you Treat a UTI in Adults?
Because UTIs are an infection, antibiotics are regarded as the best treatment option for UTIs. The antibiotic you are prescribed depends on the particular bacteria that is causing the infection.
Commonly used antibiotics to treat UTIs in adults include:
- Nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid)
- Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra, others)
- Sulfonamides (sulfa drugs)
- Cephalexin (Keflex)
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