Infections Of The Different Parts Of The Urinary Tract

Infections of the urinary tract are common particularly among females. It is usually easily treated with a course of antibiotics but there are times when these infections can be persistent or recurrent. The fact is that UTIs can differ from one episode to the next and from one person to another. Sometimes it is limited to only one part of the urinary tract while at other times it may affect almost the entire length of the tract. The causative microbe can also vary from one attack to the next. Even the symptoms may fluctuate.

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Understanding the basics of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and how the different organs of the urinary system are affected is important for any person suffering with a UTI. Antibiotics are essential and very effective but your lifestyle also plays an important role in preventing, treating and managing a UTI.

Most people do not know or identify the signs of urinary tract infections at an early stage. Sometimes there are little to no symptoms and a person does not seek medical attention until the infection becomes severe. Delaying in treating a urinary tract infection can lead to serious complications which can in some instances even become life-threatening.

  • Most urinary tract infections are due to bacteria but it can also be caused by viruses, fungi and parasites.
  • Over 90% of UTIs are ascending infections where the bacteria travel from the lower parts of the urinary tract upwards.
  • In the 20 to 50 year old age group, women are 50 times more likely than men to suffer with UTIs.
  • E.coli bacteria are responsible for about 9 out of 10 UTIs outside of hospitals and for about 5 out of 10 UTIs that develop in hospitalized patients.

General Tips

  • Always wipe the anus in the right direction – from front to back – after passing stool.
  • Drink at least 2 liters of water daily. This excludes the quantity of other beverages that are often consumed, like tea, coffee, fruit juice or soda.
  • Cranberry juice has been shown to be helpful in preventing UTIs but it is not a treatment to replace antibiotics.
  • Urinating immediately after intercourse can help in reducing the chance of urinary tract infections.
  • Certain foods, some soaps and fabrics can irritate the area and exacerbate UTIs.

For more detailed information, read how to treat and prevent UTIs.

Urethra

The urethra is the lowest portion of the urinary tract. It runs from the bladder to the external opening which passes urine outside of the body. An infection of the urethra is known as infectious urethritis. It can be classified as gonococcal or non-gonoccocal.  Gonococcal urethritis is usually spread through sexual contact and is caused by Neiserria gonorrhoeae.  A number of different types of bacteria may be responsible for the non-gonococcal variety.

Some facts about urethritis

  • The urethra is shorter in females than in males. This is the reason why females suffer with UTIs more often than males.
  • Most urinary tract infections start in the urethra. The microbes enter from the outside of the body and the gradually spreads upwards from the urethra to the bladder. This is known as an ascending infection.
  • Some people have receptors on the inner lining of the urethra to which bacteria can adhere to. It prevents the bacteria from being ‘washed out’ during urination.

Bladder

The bladder is the storage organ of the urinary tract. Urine that is produced in the kidneys run down the ureters to be stored in the bladder until it is ready to be expelled outside of the body. When infected, it is known as infectious cystitis. Most cases of infectious cystitis are due to bacteria. However, the bladder may also be infected by viruses and fungi which is more common in people with weakened immune systems or who have been using antibiotics for long periods of time.

Some facts about cystitis

  • Escherichia coli (E.coli) is the most common bacteria responsible for cystitis. It usually originates from the rectum of the person with the UTI.
  • Normally urine is sterile. Bacteria can reside within the urine in the bladder and sometimes there are no significant symptoms of its presence. It can contribute to the formation of bladder stones.
  • The bladder is the most likely organ to be infected in most UTIs. Bacteria easily reaches the bladder via the urethra (ascending infection) or through urine from the infected kidney (descending infection).

Ureters

There are two ureters on either side that connect each kidney to the bladder. It carries the urine from the kidney to be stored in the bladder. Ureters are thin long tubes that are part of the upper urinary tract. An infection of the ureter is known as infectious ureteritis. A valve at the end of the ureter usually prevents the backward flow of urine from the bladder into the ureters. In this way the risk of ureteral infections is minimized. Compared to urethritis and cystitis it is an uncommon condition of the urinary tract.

Some facts about ureteritis

  • Ureteritis is unlikely to occur on its own. Overall it is rare and mainly arises from the spread of a kidney infection (descending UTI).
  • Flank pain is one of the common symptoms of ureteritis and pyelonephritis (kidney infection).
  • Children with a UTI are more likely to have the ureteral valve malfunction thereby allowing for the backward flow of urine from the bladder into the kidney.

Kidneys

The kidneys are the most complex organs of the urinary system. It filters blood of wastes and produces urine which is then passed down the ureters to be stored in the bladder. The kidneys are tucked under the ribcage in the upper abdomen. It is well protected with a capsule and infections of the kidney (pyelonephritis) rarely occur directly from microorganisms reaching it from the external environment. Instead an infection elsewhere in the body spreads through the bloodstream to the kidney or rises from the lower parts of the urinary tract (ascending infection).

Some facts about pyelonephritis

  • Acute pyelonephritis is a potentially life-threatening infection. In chronic pyelonephritis the kidney is damaged due to repeated or persistent infections and can even lead to kidney failure.
  • Pregnant women with bacteria in their urine are at risk of developing pyelonephritis particularly in the second and third trimesters.
  • The rise in the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria has complicated the treatment of some cases of pyelonephritis.

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