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The burning truth: Crucial facts about UTIs that you need to know


Few things are more dreaded than a urinary tract infection (UTI). This not only features unpleasant symptoms, like the urge to use the toilet every five minutes and a burning sensation when you urinate, but also a tendency for the infection to recur again and again. 

UTI is among the most common types of infection in Kenya. Nearly half of all women will suffer from a urinary tract infection at some point in their lives. The urinary tract infection is more prevalent in women compared to men due to the fact that the urethra is shorter for women than men and it is also closer to the back passage (anus) than in men thus allowing bacteria quick access from the urethra to the bladder and causing an infection.

The urinary tract system encompasses the urethra, bladder, ureters and kidneys. An infection occurs when bacteria enters this system and multiplies. The symptoms of urinary tract infection include; a burning sensation during urination, constant urge to pass urine, pain in lower abdomen, nausea and fever. In severe cases, the urine may be bloody or have a foul smell.

Though viruses and fungi can cause an infection, in eighty percent of the cases of urinary tract infections, the main cause is a bacterium found in the intestine, Escherichia coli, commonly known as E.Coli.

Most UTIs are bladder infections and are not serious if they are treated right away. However, If left untreated, a bladder infection may travel to the kidneys and cause complications. When the infection is just in the bladder and urethra, it is called a lower UTI but if it travels up to affect one or both kidneys, then it becomes an upper UTI. This can be more dangerous than lower UTIs, as the kidneys can be damaged by the infection.

Risk factors for urinary tract infection include diabetes, pregnancy, kidney stone and prostate cancer. The infections are common in pregnancy due to the increase of the pregnancy hormone, progesterone, which slows down the clearing mechanism of the bladder.

Children are also susceptible to UTIs because their genitals easily come into contact with soiled nappies. E. Coli can be caused by contamination from the back passage when passing stool, therefore people who have problems with bowel control are prone to urinary tract infections.

Urinary tract infection is not sexually transmitted; however anal sex can cause UTI especially in gay partners. In most cases, UTI infections are caused by bacteria located in the urinary tract, not in the birth canal.

There is no reliable way to prevent urinary tract infections, but there are several preventive measures that can be taken to help minimise your chances of getting one. Practice good hygiene, drink plenty of water to flush out the bladder and urethra and cranberry juice which changes the PH of urine and prevents E. coli from sticking to the wall of the bladder, among others.

A urine culture is used to determine the cause of the infection. UTIs are normally treated with antibiotics for a short period of time. Depending on severity of the symptoms, treatment for UTI ranges from 3 days to 2 weeks.  

By Dr Johnstone Miheso, Programme Director and Consultant Urogynaecologist at Aga Khan University Hospital. Email: [email protected]

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