Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common medical complaint. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of women will have a UTI at some time in their lives. Also called bladder infections or cystitis, a UTI occurs when bacteria enter the bladder, usually through the urethra (urine tube), and begin to multiply.

Urine contains fluids, salts and waste products but is sterile or free of bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing organisms. A UTI occurs when bacteria from another source, such as the nearby anus, gets into the urethra. The most common bacteria found to cause UTIs is Escherichia coli (E. coli). Other bacteria can cause UTI, but E. coli is the culprit about 90 percent of the time.

E. coli normally lives harmlessly in the human intestinal tract, but it can cause serious infections if it gets into the urinary tract. In women, the trip from the anus to the urethra is a short one. This is the reason why "wiping front to back" after using the toilet is helpful in preventing UTI.

An untreated UTI can move up to the kidneys and cause an even more serious infection, so prompt diagnosis and treatment is important. Sexually active women, pregnant women and older women all may be at increased risk for UTI.

The symptoms of UTI can include:

Pain or burning with urination
Lower abdominal pain or pressure
The need to urinate frequently
The urine may look cloudy or darker in color or it may appear bloody
A fever, flank pain, nausea or vomiting accompanying any of these symptoms could signal that the infection has reached the kidneys, and you should seek immediate medical attention.

However, some women, especially older women, may have very subtle or no symptoms. If you experience a sudden increase in the need to urinate often, or start to leak urine involuntarily, UTI could be the cause — especially if this is a new problem.

Go to top