What is Urinary Tract Infection in Women?

By  , Expert Content
Feb 20, 2012

Urinary tract infection is an infection that affects the urinary system. The urinary system consists of kidneys, ureters (the tube that connects the kidney with the bladder), bladder and urethra (the tube through which urine leaves the body). The urinary tract makes urine and carries it out of your body.

What causes UTI

Most cases of urinary tract infection are caused by bacteria. In most cases, the bacterium E. coli is the infecting germ in UTI. Other bacteria that cause UTI include:

  • Klebsiella, 4t
  • Pseudomonas,
  • Enterobacter,
  • Proteus,
  • Staphylococcus,
  • Mycoplasma,
  • Chlamydia,
  • Serratia and
  • Neisseria spp.

Women are more prone to develop urinary tract infection than men. In most cases of UTI, the bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and reach the bladder. The bacteria multiply in the bladder and when they increase sufficiently in number, you experience symptoms of UTI. In most women, UTI involves the bladder and urethra, but if the infection is not treated, it can ascend and spread to your kidneys. Infection of the bladder and urethra is not considered serious, but infection of the kidneys is serious and can damage the kidneys.

The risk of UTI is higher in women than men because of the anatomy of their genitals. In women, the proximity of the urethra to the anus and the short urethra increase the risk of UTI.

Other factors that increase your risk of developing a UTI include:

  • diabetes
  • advanced age (people older than 65)
  • medical condition that may cause retention of urine (so the bladder does not empty completely)
  • insertion of urinary catheter, surgery or any other procedure in the urinary tract
  • bowel incontinence
  • kidney stones
  • pregnancy

Symptoms of UTI

Urinary tract infection in women can be symptomatic or without symptoms. Symptoms of UTI depend on whether the lower urinary tract is infected or the upper urinary tract is infected.

Some common symptoms of a lower UTI are:

  • cloudy urine
  • increased frequency of urination (i.e. you may have to urinate more frequently either during the day, at night or both)
  • pain or discomfort on urination
  • urgency to urinate (i.e. holding urine becomes more difficult when you have an urge to urinate)
  • foul smell or unpleasant smell in urine
  • blood in urine (haematuria)
  • pain in lower part of abdomen
  • a feeling of soreness or tenderness around your pelvis
  • back pain
  • not feeling well, malaise
  • Fever

Some common symptoms of upper UTI are:

  • fever (temperature of 380C or 100.40F or above)
  • chills
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • back pain or pain in your side or groin (can vary in severity from moderate to severe  and this may worsen on passing urine)
  • not feeling well, malaise


Antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment of urinary tract infections as most cases of UTI are caused by bacteria. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics considering many factors including the severity of infection, your health condition and the causative bacterium. Treatment also depends on whether the lower or upper urinary tract is infected. In most cases, UTI can be treated with oral antibiotics at home. You will be given antibiotics for about a week. The duration of antibiotic therapy depends on the severity of infection, your health and if you are at the risk of developing complications because of some associated disease, such as diabetes.

Some of the commonly prescribed antibiotics for urinary tract infections include:

  • Sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim
  • Amoxicillin
  • Nitrofurantoin
  • Ampicillin
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Levofloxacin



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