What's a UTI

Reviewed by Dr Jonah Mink, April 21'

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection of any part of the urinary system. This includes the bladder (known as cystitis), urethra (known as urethritis) and kidneys (known as pyelonephritis).

UTIs are usually caused by bacteria, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), travelling up the urethra and into the bladder. Bacteria can then multiply, resulting in an infection.

UTIs are extremely common, especially in women. This can be explained by the female anatomy. Women have a shorter urethra than men, which means that bacteria only have to travel a short distance from the entrance of the urethra to the bladder. The urethra is also closer to the gastrointestinal tract in women than in men, so bacteria need to travel a shorter distance to reach the entrance to the urethra.

In fact, one in two women will experience at least one UTI in their lifetime.

Even though UTI symptoms can be uncomfortable, a short course of antibiotics can alleviate them and eliminate the infection in most cases.


Is a UTI dangerous?

Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) aren’t dangerous and can be treated effectively with antibiotics. However, some infections, if left untreated, can lead to more serious diseases.

It is possible for a bladder infection to spread up the ureters to the kidneys, which can lead to kidney damage and scarring as well as a blood infection, but it’s not common. This condition is called pyelonephritis.

Pyelonephritis can cause chills, back pain, nausea, fever and vomiting. If this condition is suspected, your doctor may perform urine, blood and/or imaging tests as well as prescribe antibiotics

A more serious UTI can also travel to the bloodstream, causing sepsis. This is called urosepsis and can be life-threatening if untreated.

In short, when treated appropriately, an uncomplicated UTI should normally disappear within a few days. For this reason, you should get tested for a UTI if you have noticed any symptoms of infection.


Lower urinary tract infection

Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) involve the lower urinary tract. This includes the bladder and urethra.

An infection of the bladder is called cystitis, while an infection of the urethra is called urethritis. 

Both types of UTI can be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms can be managed by taking painkillers and drinking plenty of fluids to reduce pain.

What is Cystitis

Cystitis is a common type of lower urinary tract infection, referring specifically to the inflammation of the bladder. It’s usually caused by a bacterial infection in the urine and is particularly prevalent in women. 

The bladder is a muscular, balloon-like bag that stores urine from the kidneys. Urine is carried from the bladder out of the body through a tube called the urethra. Cystitis occurs when bacteria travel up the urethra, infect the urine and inflame the bladder.

Cystitis affects people of both sexes and all ages, yet it’s more common in women than men. This is down to a number of reasons, but mainly because women have shorter urethras and the urethra is located closer to the anus. 

Typically, cystitis is not a serious condition and can be treated effectively with a short course of antibiotics. However, if left untreated, it can lead to complications, so it’s important to consult with a medical professional if your symptoms don’t go away.

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