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Urinary tract infection - (UTI)

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Urinary tract infection (UTI) describes an infection that begins in the urinary system. UTIs can be painful and annoying. Blood in the urine can be a sign and sometimes the only sign at first of a urinary tract infection. They can also become a serious health problem if the infection spreads to the kidneys.

Women are most at risk of developing a UTI. In fact, one in five women will develop one during their lifetime, and many will have more than one. Young girls - as well as men - also are at risk of developing a UTI.

The urinary system is composed of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. All play a different role in removing waste from the body. The kidneys, a pair of bean-shaped organs in your upper-posterior abdomen, filter waste from the blood. Tubes called ureters carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder, where it is stored until it exits the body through the urethra. All of these components can become infected, but most infections involve the lower tract - the urethra and the bladder.

Signs and symptoms

Not everyone with a UTI develops recognizable signs and symptoms, but most people have some. These can include:

  • A strong, persistent urge to urinate

  • A burning sensation when urinating

  • Passing frequent, small amounts of urine

  • Blood in the urine (hematuria) or cloudy, strong-smelling urine

Each type of UTI may result in more specific signs and symptoms, depending on which part of your urinary tract is infected:

  • Acute pyelonephritis. Infection of your kidneys may occur after spreading from an infection in your bladder. Kidney infection can cause flank pain, high fever, shaking chills, and nausea or vomiting.

  • Cystitis. Inflammation or infection of your bladder may result in pressure in the pelvis and lower abdomen and strong-smelling urine.

  • Urethritis. Inflammation or infection of the urethra leads to burning with urination and sometimes pus in your urine. In men, urethritis may cause penile discharge.


Urinary tract infections typically occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder. The urinary system has infection-fighting properties that inhibit the growth of bacteria and is designed to keep out such microscopic invaders. However, certain factors increase the chances that bacteria will enter the urinary tract, take hold and multiply into a full-blown infection.

Bacteria in the urine don't always signify an infection. Some people, especially older adults, may have bacteria in the bladder that don't cause any signs or symptoms or harm. This condition is known as asymptomatic bacteriuria.

Cystitis may occur in women after sexual intercourse. But even girls and women who are not sexually active are susceptible to lower urinary tract infections because the anus is so close to the female urethra. Most cases of cystitis are caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli), a species of bacteria commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract.

In urethritis, the same organisms that infect the kidney and bladder can infect the urethra. In addition, because of the female urethra's proximity to the vagina, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as herpes simplex virus and chlamydia, also are possible causes of urethritis. Organisms that infect the urethra can easily spread to the vagina and cause an STD.

In men, urethritis often is the result of bacteria acquired through sexual contact. The majority of such infections are caused by gonorrhea and chlamydia.


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