Urinary Tract Infections

The urinary tract is the body's drainage system to remove waste and excess water. It includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria infect any part of that tract.

Types of Urinary Tract Infection

There are different types of infection, depending on the infected area.

  • Bladder infection (cystitis): the most common type. Symptoms include frequent urination, burning when urinating, strong-smelling urine, cloudy or bloody urine, and pain in the lower abdomen.
  • Kidney infection (pyelonephritis): This type of infection usually starts in the bladder and rises to the kidneys. Symptoms include frequent and painful urination, urine with traces of blood, dark or foul-smelling, nausea and vomiting, chills, fever and pain in the back, side or groin.
  • Urethritis (inflammation of the urethra): Symptoms include frequent and painful urination, itching and urethral discharge.

Complications of Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections are common and treatable, but they can lead to other medical concerns:

  • Recurrent urinary tract infections: Those who have suffered from urinary tract infections in the past run the risk of developing them again, especially if they do not change their habits.
  • Sepsis: An uncontrolled release of chemicals by the body in an attempt to eliminate an infection, sepsis, can cause organ damage and be life-threatening.

If you suffer from a urinary tract infection or think you may have it, contact your doctor as soon as possible: a late diagnosis and treatment can pose serious health risks.

Risk Factors

Some people are at increased risk of developing urinary tract infections:

  • Sexual activity: Sexually active individuals are more at risk due to the potential passage of bacteria during sexual intercourse.
  • Diabetes: In case of diabetes, the body is unable to counteract germs, exposing it to a greater risk.
  • Blockage in the urinary tract: Kidney stones or an enlarged prostate can trap urine in the bladder and increase risks.
  • Age: Older adults and younger children are more at risk.
  • Poor hygiene: Children who are being taught to use the bathroom may have difficulty maintaining proper hygiene.
  • Lack of fluids: Not drinking enough water reduces urination, which fails to eliminate bacteria from the body.


Common symptoms of urinary tract infections include:

  • Pressing need to urinate.
  • Burning sensation when urinating.
  • Turbid or light red urine.
  • Urine with a strong odor.
  • Pelvic or rectal pain.
  • Fever and nausea.

If you are at high risk and/or experience one or more symptoms, talk to your doctor.

How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

  • Urinate regularly and when the need arises. Bacteria can proliferate when urine stays in the bladder for too long.
  • Drink plenty of water to help expel bacteria from the body.
  • Urinate immediately after sexual intercourse to help wash away bacteria.
  • Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothing to allow air to keep the urethra dry.
  • Wash the skin around the anus and genitals to prevent the proliferation of bacteria.
  • Drink cranberry juice or take cranberry supplements.
  • Take a shower instead of a bath.
  • Limit the amount of powders or sprays used in the genital area.

Treatment of Urinary Tract Infections

Most infections can be treated by a general practitioner. Doctors usually prescribe antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections, and symptoms disappear within a few days or weeks. For more serious infections, you can rely on a urologist (who specializes in urinary disorders) or a nephrologist (who specializes in kidney disorders) for further treatment.