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Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) Causes and Risk Factors

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract. The urinary tract is the body’s system that is responsible for removing waste and excess water from the body. 

The urinary tract can be divided into two; the lower urinary tract and the upper urinary tract. The lower urinary tract consists of the bladder and the urethra (tube that carries urine out of the body), while the upper urinary tract consists of the ureters (tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder) and the kidneys.

urinary tract structure in men and women

UTIs are caused by bacteria that get into the urinary tract, causing inflammation and infection. Any part of your urinary tract can become infected, but bladder infection (cystitis) and urethra infection (urethritis) are the most common.

Most cystitis and urethritis cases are caused by E. coli, a bacterium normally found in the intestines. The bacteria also may travel up the ureters and infect the kidneys. When this happens, it’s called pyelonephritis or also known as upper UTIs. The upper UTIs (pyelonephritis) are potentially more serious because there is a risk of kidney damage and in acute cases it can cause kidney failure or blood poisoning.

UTIs are the second most common cause of physician visits each year, after respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia; approximately 8 million people visit the doctors each year due to a urinary tract infection.

Who Get Urinary Tract Infection?

Anyone can get a urinary tract infection, but it is more common in women. This is because their urethra is shorter and closer to the anus then in men, allowing bacteria quicker access to the bladder. Older adults are also at higher risk for developing cystitis. This increased risk may be due to their inability to empty the bladder completely.

Risk Factors for Urinary Tract Infection

The following factors can also increase your chances of developing a UTI:

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Bowel incontinence
  • Pregnancy
  • Kidney stones
  • Sexual intercourse – this may push bacteria from the vaginal area into the urethra.
  • Diabetes – can weaken the immune system, therefore it can increase the risk of UTI.
  • Enlarged prostate – can cause the bladder to only partially empty, leading to an increased risk of infection.
  • Catheter use – a small tube inserts into the bladder through the urethra to drain urine – can also cause UTI by introducing bacteria into the urinary tract.
  • Surgery or other procedure involving the urinary tract