The urinary tract includes the kidneys (which filter the blood to produce urine), the ureters (the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder), the bladder (which stores urine), and the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside). Urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen when bacteria get into the urethra and travel up into the bladder. If the infection stays just in the bladder, it is a called a bladder infection, or “cystitis.” If the infection travels up past the bladder and into the kidneys, it is called a kidney infection.
Bladder infections are one of the most common infections, causing symptoms of burning with urination and needing to urinate frequently. Kidney infections are less common than bladder infections, and they can cause similar symptoms, but they can also cause fever, back pain, and nausea or vomiting.
Both bladder and kidney infections are more common in women than men. Most women have an uncomplicated bladder infection that is easily treated with a short course of antibiotics. In men, bladder infections may also affect the prostate gland, and a longer course of treatment may be needed. Kidney infections can also usually be treated at home with antibiotics, but treatment typically lasts longer. In some cases, kidney infections must be treated in the hospital.
Bacteria do not normally live in the urinary tract, but they do live close to the urethra in women and men who are not circumcised. Urinary tract infections occur when these bacteria get into the urethra and travel up into the urinary tract.
Some of the factors that increase the risk of developing a urinary tract infection include; having sex frequently or having a new sex partner, having diabetes, having a bladder or kidney infection in the past 12 months, using a spermicide for birth control.
In men, not being circumcised or having anal sex increases the risk of bladder infections.
In men and women, having a condition that blocks or changes the flow of urine in the kidneys increases the risk of a kidney infection (such as kidney stones or ureteral reflux).
In men, having an enlarged prostate interferes with bladder emptying increasing one’s risk of suffering from a urinary tract infection and in fact an adult man who suffers serious forms of UTIs or recurrent UTIs should have a medical checkup for prostate conditions such as having an enlarged prostate.
Symptoms of a bladder infection include pain or a burning feeling when you urinate, the need to urinate often, the need to urinate suddenly or in a hurry and sometimes blood may be seen in one’s urine.
When this bladder infection isn’t treated effectively, it can ascend to affect the kidneys leading to a more life threatening kidney infection.
The symptoms of a kidney infection can include the symptoms of a bladder infection, but kidney infections can also cause fever, back pain, nausea or vomiting.
It is important to recognise the above symptoms of a urinary tract infection early and consult a doctor for proper management to prevent complications of a UTI. He or she will probably be able to tell if you have a urinary tract infection just by learning about your symptoms and doing a simple urine test. If your doctor thinks you might have a kidney infection or is unsure what you have, he or she might also do a more involved urine test to check for bacteria or take off a blood sample to check for any features of an infection due to the kidney infection.
Most urinary tract infections are treated with oral antibiotic pills. These pills work by killing the germs that cause the infection.
If one has a bladder infection, they will probably need to take the antibiotics for three to seven days. If one has a kidney infection, they will probably need to take antibiotics for longer (maybe for up to two weeks), and it’s also possible that they will need to be treated in the hospital.
The symptoms of UTI should begin to improve within a day or two of starting the antibiotics, but one should finish all the antibiotic pills prescribed to prevent the infection from coming back.
Dr. Ian Shyaka
Resident in Surgery, Rwanda Military Hospital