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Urinary tract infection - (UTI)
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Urinary tract infection - (UTI)

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Risk factors

Some people appear to be more likely than others to develop UTIs. Up to one in five women will develop a bladder infection over a lifetime. A key reason is their anatomy. Women have a shorter urethra than men have, which cuts down on the distance bacteria must travel to reach the bladder.

Women who are sexually active tend to have more UTIs. Sexual intercourse can irritate the urethra, allowing germs to more easily travel through the urethra into the bladder. Women who use diaphragms for birth control also may be at higher risk. After menopause UTIs may become more common because tissues of the vagina, urethra and the base of the bladder become thinner and more fragile due to loss of estrogen.

Other risk factors include:

  • Anything that impedes the flow of urine, such as an enlarged prostate in men or a kidney stone

  • Diabetes and other chronic illnesses that may impair the immune system

  • Medications that lower immunity, such as cortisone in higher doses

  • Prolonged use of tubes (catheters) in the bladder

A woman's immune system may play a role in her risk of recurrent UTIs. Bacteria may be able to attach to cells in the urinary tract more easily in women lacking certain immune factors or who have poorly defined immune factors. More research is needed to determine the exact factors involved and how such factors can be manipulated to benefit women with frequent UTIs.

Screening and diagnosis

If you have symptoms of a urinary infection, contact your doctor promptly. If your doctor suspects you have a UTI, he or she may ask for a urine sample to determine if bacteria are present in your urine. A urinalysis, sometimes followed by a urine culture, can reveal whether you have an infection. Although no simple test can differentiate between an upper and lower urinary tract infection, the presence of fever and flank pain indicate that the infection likely involves your kidneys.


When treated promptly and properly, UTIs rarely lead to complications. But left untreated, a urinary tract infection can become something more serious than a set of uncomfortable symptoms.

Untreated UTIs can lead to acute or chronic pyelonephritis, which could permanently damage your kidneys. Young children and older adults are at the greatest risk of kidney damage due to UTIs because their symptoms are often overlooked or mistaken for other conditions. Women who have UTIs while pregnant may also have an increased risk of delivering low birth weight or premature infants.


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