By Dr Harsh Sharma, DHMS, BHMS
Published February 10, 2015, Last updated October 21, 2016
What is UTI
Urinary tract infection or UTI is the infection in the urinary system. This means that the infection could be in the urethra, ureters, urinary bladder or the kidneys. These four parts or organs form the urinary system of the body. So a UTI could mean an infection in any part of the urinary system.
The Urinary Tract
The upper part of the urinary tract comprises of the kidneys and the ureters. Human body has two kidneys. They are situated on either side of the lumbar spine just around the waist level. The kidneys are a vital part of the excretory system of the body. They cleanse the blood and drain out all impurities and excess water in the form of urine. They keep the blood clean and also help in regulating the blood pressure. Kidneys also help in regulating the electrolyte levels in the blood. The electrolytes like Sodium and Potassium are very important for the proper functioning of the human body. From each kidney a ureter passes out and connects to the urinary bladder. Each ureter is about 10 inches long. This ureter drains the urine from the kidney to the urinary bladder. An infection in the upper urinary tract is known as pyelonephritis.
The lower part of the urinary system comprises of the urinary bladder and the urethra. The urinary bladder, commonly referred to as the bladder, is a sac like organ. The urine collects in the bladder and is stored there till it is discharged. When the urinary bladder gets filled up, there is a sensation of fullness and one starts getting an urge to pass urine. The urinary bladder muscle contracts and urine is discharged through the urethra. An infection in the urinary bladder is known as cystitis. The urethra is a small tube like structure that connects the urinary bladder on one end and provides an outlet on the other end. An infection of the urethra is known as urethritis.
During a UTI, any part of the urinary system can be infected. When the infection is in the upper part of the urinary system, the kidneys and the ureters are infected. When the lower part of the urinary system is infected, the urinary bladder and the urethra is infected. Higher the infection, the more serious it is.
Incidence of UTI
UTI is the second most common infection after respiratory infections. So one can understand that it is a fairly common problem. In some people, the infection keeps recurring. This may mean5-6 episodes within a year. UTI is much more commonly seen in adults. This does not mean that children are immune but the incidence is much lower. But the flip side of being a child is that the infection is much more likely to be serious than that in the case of adults. Also, the incidence of UTI is much more in females than that of males. Studies have shown that almost half the women have UTI at least once in their life. This is probably because of the difference in anatomic structure of the urinary system in males and females.
Causes of UTI
Under normal circumstances, the urine is sterile which means that it does not contain any bacteria. When bacteria invade the urinary system and start proliferating, it causes infection. Most of the times, this starts from the urethra which is the outer opening through which urine is discharged. This infection then spreads upwards and reaches the urinary bladder. It may even spread to the ureters and kidneys.
- The causative organism in most cases of UTI happens to be the Escherichia Coli or the E. Coli bacteria. These bacteria are usually found in the intestines and can spread from the anal region to the urethra. Poor hygiene can easily allow the bacteria to spread from the anal region to the urethral opening. At times, this can occur during sexual intercourse.
- People having kidney stones are also at a higher risk of having UTIs. This can be due to the blockage of the urinary tract due to stones. The blockage allows the bacteria to collect and multiply.
- Diabetics are also at a much higher risk of contracting a urinary infection. Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy in men can also be a prominent cause of urinary infections in males.
- Newly married women are also more likely to get infections. Sexual activity can allow a lot of bacteria to invade the urinary system. Urinating after sexual intercourse has been seen to reduce the incidence of infections.
- Hospitals are known to be the hotbed of infections. That is why hospitalised patients are at increased risk of catching urinary infections. This is more so in patients who have been catheterised.
Symptoms of UTI
The symptoms of the urinary tract infection depend upon whether the upper urinary tract is infected or the lower urinary tract. In case the upper tract is infected, the symptoms are more likely to be systemic. In the case of lower urinary tract infection the symptoms are more likely to be localised. Other modifying factors could be age of the patient, the gender of the patient and the general health or immunity of the patient.
- Burning in the urethra is the most common symptom. The burning occurs while urinating.
- There may be pain in the urethra. Sometimes this may be described as cutting pain.
- Frequent urge to urinate is also common. Even after voiding urine, one may feel the urge. When one tries to pass urine, only a small quantity may be passed. This pattern is likely to be repeated every now and then.
- Urgency of urine is also present. When one feels the urge to urinate, one is hardly able to resist the urge. This is despite the fact that the urinary bladder may not be completely full.
- Cloudy or bad smelling urine is also seen in some cases.
- There may be blood also in the urine
- Fever may also be present in some cases. This is more likely to happen when the infection spreads to the upper urinary system.
- Pain in the lower abdomen or in the back may also be present.
- Nausea and vomiting is also seen in some cases.
Prevention of UTI
A few steps can go a long way in preventing the occurrence and also recurrence of urinary infections in people who are prone.
- One of the most important factor that helps in prevention of UTI is adequate intake of water. One should take lots of water. This allows the urine to get diluted. At the same time, when one drinks a lot of water, the quantity of urine also increases. This allows the bacteria to be washed away with the increased flow of urine. Drinking juices can also help.
- Taking care of hygiene is also important. One should take utmost care of personal hygiene.
- Females should wipe from the front to the back and not from back to the front. This will help in preventing the spread the bacteria from the anal region to the urethral region.
- Also sexually active females gain from urinating after intercourse. Diabetics should take care that their sugar levels are maintained at the optimum levels.
Homeopathy for UTI
Homeopathic medicines are very effective at treating UTI. It works much better than the antibiotics that are routinely prescribed for urinary infections. Homeopathic medicines like Cantharis, Capsicum, Berberis Vulgarish, Apis and Arsenic Album are routinely indicated in such cases. These medicines have been known to completely cure urinary infections.