UTI or Urinary Tract Infection is extremely common in women and can be painful, annoying and often result in serious consequences if the infection spreads to the kidneys. However, you must keep in mind that UTIs rarely lead to any complications if treated properly and in a timely manner. But if left untreated, it can lead to sepsis, permanent kidney damage from a chronic kidney infection, and increased risk of delivering premature infants in case of pregnant women.

About 40% of women in their lifetime suffer from UTI at least once, but you can definitely take steps to reduce your chances of developing one. Our in-house expert and chief medical advisor from Bangalore Kidney Foundation, Dr Veerabhadra Gupta shares his expert insights on UTIs and kidney-related infections in women. 

1. What is a UTI? Are women at greater risk of developing UTIs than men? 

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system — your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Most infections involve the lower urinary tract — the bladder and the urethra.

Anatomy is the most likely culprit. Women are more likely to develop UTIs because they have a shorter urethra than men. Bacteria don’t have to travel very far to reach and infect a woman’s bladder. Plus, the opening to the urethra is closer to the rectum, where the bacteria that can cause these infections tend to live.

Urinary tract infection (UTI) is the third most common infection experienced by humans after respiratory and gastrointestinal infections

Ladies, most of them have had UTI at least once. If you haven’t, there’s a pretty good chance you will. The National Kidney Foundation states one in five women will have at least one UTI in her lifetime. After you’ve had one, your risk for having recurrent UTIs increases with each UTI you have. And 27% of women have more than two UTIs every year.

2. What are some common signs & symptoms of UTIs?

  • A burning feeling when you urinate
  • A frequent or strong urge to urinate, even though little comes out when you do
  • A sudden change in your usual routine or pattern of going to the bathroom
  • Pain or pressure in your back or lower abdomen
  • Cloudy, dark, bloody or strange-smelling urine
  • Any sensation that doesn’t seem normal when you go
  • Fever, chills, rigours

3. Can you guide us through the different kinds of UTI, focusing especially on Pyelonephritis?

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

Part of the urinary tract affectedSigns and symptoms
Kidneys (acute pyelonephritis)Upper back and side (flank) pain
High fever
Shaking and chills
Nausea
Vomiting
Bladder (cystitis)Pelvic pressure
Lower abdomen discomfort
Frequent, painful urination
Blood in urine
Urethra (urethritis)Burning with urination
Discharge

Pyelonephritis is the inflammation of the kidneys. It may be acute or chronic.

Acute pyelonephritis generally develops rapidly over a few hours or a day. It can cause high fever, pain on passing urine, and abdominal pain that radiates along the flank towards the back. This is often associated with vomiting.

Chronic pyelonephritis causes persistent flank or abdominal pain, signs of infection (fever, unintentional weight loss, decreased appetite), lower urinary tract symptoms and blood in the urine. Chronic pyelonephritis can in addition cause fever of unknown origin.

Chronic pyelonephritis implies recurrent kidney infections and can result in scarring of the renal parenchyma and impaired function, especially in the setting of obstruction.

4. What are the common causes of UTI-related kidney infections?

  • Being female
  • Having a urinary tract blockage
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having damage to nerves around the bladder
  • Using a urinary catheter for a time
  • Having a condition that causes urine to flow the wrong way

5. What are chronic UTIs? 

A chronic urinary tract infection (UTI) might also be called persistent or recurring UTI. According to one study, a doctor will diagnose a recurring UTI (RUTI) if a person has three positive urine cultures during a 12-month period or two infections during the previous 6 months.

6. How are UTIs & kidney-related infections diagnosed?

Tests and procedures used to diagnose urinary tract infections include:

  • Analysing a urine sample. Your doctor may ask for a urine sample for lab analysis to look for white blood cells, red blood cells or bacteria. To avoid potential contamination of the sample, you may be instructed to first wipe your genital area with an antiseptic pad and to collect the urine midstream.
  • Growing urinary tract bacteria/pathogen in a lab. Lab analysis of the urine is sometimes followed by a urine culture. This test tells your doctor what bacteria are causing your infection and which medications will be most effective.
  • Creating images of your urinary tract. If you are having frequent infections that your doctor thinks may be caused by an abnormality in your urinary tract, you may have an ultrasound, a computerised tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Your doctor may also use a contrast dye to highlight structures in your urinary tract.
  • Using a scope to see inside your bladder. If you have recurrent UTIs, your doctor may perform a cystoscopy, using a long, thin tube with a lens (cystoscope) to see inside your urethra and bladder. The cystoscope is inserted in your urethra and passed through to your bladder.

7. What are the treatment options available for UTIs & kidney-related infections?

Antibiotics usually are the first-line treatment for urinary tract infections. Which type of drugs will be prescribed and for how long will depend on your health condition and the type of bacteria found in your urine.

Often, symptoms clear up within a few days of treatment. But you may need to continue antibiotics for a week or more. Take the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed.

For an uncomplicated UTI that occurs when you’re otherwise healthy, your doctor may recommend a shorter course of treatment, such as taking an antibiotic for one to three days. But whether this short course of treatment is enough to treat your infection depends on your particular symptoms and medical history.

Your doctor may also prescribe a pain medication (analgesic) that numbs your bladder and urethra to relieve burning while urinating, but the pain usually is relieved soon after starting an antibiotic.

If you have frequent UTIs, your doctor may make certain treatment recommendations, such as:

  • Low-dose antibiotics, initially for six months but sometimes longer
  • Self-diagnosis and treatment, if you stay in touch with your doctor
  • A single dose of an antibiotic after sexual intercourse if your infections are related to sexual activity
  • Vaginal estrogen therapy if you’re postmenopausal

For a severe UTI, you may need treatment with intravenous antibiotics in a hospital.

8. What are some hygiene tips which can help women reduce their chances of contracting UTI?

  • Go to the bathroom as soon as you have the urge
  • Make sure to wipe from front to back
  • Make a trip to the bathroom before and after sex
  • Enjoy baths? That’s OK every once in a while, but take showers more often than you soak
  • Wear breathable underwear, preferably with a cotton crotch
  • Tight pants aren’t in style for your pelvic health. Avoid wearing tight-fitting pants, they can trap moisture

9. What are some lifestyle tips to prevent UTIs & kidney infections?

Urinary tract infections can be painful, but you can take steps to ease your discomfort until antibiotics treat the infection. Follow these tips:

  • Drink plenty of water. Water helps to dilute your urine and flush out bacteria
  • Avoid drinks that may irritate your bladder. Avoid coffee, alcohol, and soft drinks containing citrus juices or caffeine until your infection has cleared. They can irritate your bladder and tend to aggravate your frequent or urgent need to urinate
  • Use a heating pad. Apply a warm, but not hot, heating pad to your abdomen to minimize bladder pressure or discomfort

Many people drink cranberry juice to prevent UTIs. There’s some indication that cranberry products, in either juice or tablet form, may have infection-fighting properties. Researchers continue to study the ability of cranberry juice to prevent UTIs, but results are not conclusive.

If you enjoy drinking cranberry juice and feel it helps you prevent UTIs, there’s little harm in it. For most people, drinking cranberry juice is safe, but some people report an upset stomach or diarrhoea.

However, don’t drink cranberry juice if you’re taking blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin.

Disclaimer: This is for general information of the readers.  Always consult a Nephrologist for specific renal health problems.