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Urine Infection (cont.)

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What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

The urinary tract is comprised of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra (see Figure 1). A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection caused by pathogenic organisms (for example, bacteria, fungi, or parasites) in any of the structures that comprise the urinary tract. However, this is the broad definition of urinary tract infections; many authors prefer to use more specific terms that localize the urinary tract infection to the major structural segment involved such as urethritis (urethral infection), cystitis (bladder infection), ureter infection, and pyelonephritis (kidney infection). Other structures that eventually connect to or share close anatomic proximity to the urinary tract (for example, prostate, epididymis, and vagina) are sometimes included in the discussion of UTIs because they may either cause or be caused by UTIs. Technically, they are not UTIs and will be briefly mentioned in this article.

UTIs are common, leading to between seven and 10 million doctor visits per year. Although some infections go unnoticed, UTIs can cause problems that range from dysuria (pain and/or burning when urinating) to organ damage and even death. The kidneys are the active organs that produce about 1.5 quarts of urine per day. They help keep electrolytes and fluids (for example, potassium, sodium and water) in balance, assist in the removal of waste products (urea), and produce a hormone that aids in the formation of red blood cells. If kidneys are injured or destroyed by infection, these vital functions can be damaged or lost.

While most investigators state that UTIs are not transmitted from person to person, other investigators dispute this and say UTIs may be contagious and recommend that sex partners avoid relations until the UTI has cleared. There is general agreement that sexual intercourse can cause a UTI. This is mostly thought to be a mechanical process whereby bacteria are introduced into the urinary tracts during the sexual act. There is no dispute about the transmission of UTIs caused by sexually transmitted disease (STD) organisms; these infections (for example, gonorrhea and chlamydia) are easily transmitted between sex partners and are very contagious. Some of the symptoms of UTIs and sexually transmitted diseases can be similar (pain and foul smell).

Picture of the urinary tract structures
Picture of the urinary tract structures
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/7/2014


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