Urinary tract infections (commonly referred to at UTIs) affect millions of people in Canada and across the world every year. Parts of the urinary tract that can be affected include the bladder, the kidneys, ureters, or urethra. While UTIs are more common in women due to the fact that their urethra is shorter (therefore bacteria only has to travel a short distance to reach the bladder), men can also develop UTIs.

As for what causes a urinary tract infection, there are a few different causes. An infection of the bladder can be caused by a type of bacteria known as Escherichia coli (also more commonly known as E. coli), which is commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract. However, they can also be caused from sexual intercourse. Other things like human anatomy, menopause, and even certain types of birth control can also be risk factors to the development of UTIs, as can having a blockage in the urinary tract (caused by a kidney stone, for example), use of catheters, and even having a suppressed immune system.

The symptoms that someone will experience as a result of having a UTI usually depends on which part of the urinary tract is affected.

For example, if it is the bladder that is affected, symptoms that one may develop include:

• Frequent and/or painful urination
• Lower abdominal pain
• Pelvic pressure
• Blood present in the urine

If the kidneys are affected, symptoms can include:

• Upper back pain
• Side (flank) pain
• Fever
• Shaking
• Chills
• Nausea
• Vomiting

In many instances it can be difficult for someone to tell the difference between a bladder or kidney infection – which is why having a urinalysis done is important. This will not only be able to determine which kind of infection you have but will also help your physician to provide you with the most effective treatment – such as antibiotics. During your treatment you may also need to take over-the-counter pain medication (Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen) to help ease any discomfort, such as abdominal pain. To further determine the cause of your UTI, or if you seemingly develop UTIs frequently, your doctor may order a variety of different tests, which may or may not include medical imaging tests such as an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI or a cystoscopy. Additionally, you may be referred to a urologist – a type of doctor who specializes in treating conditions associated with the urinary tract.

In the meantime, there are also certain preventative measures that you can take to try to avoid getting a UTI. These include drinking plenty of water (as this helps dilute your urine and also flushes bacteria from your urinary tract), drink sugar-free cranberry juice, and also make sure you are wiping from front to back after using the restroom (doing so prevents bacteria from spreading.)