Basic Information About UTIs

Other Names for a UTI

A UTI is also called a urinary tract infection. A UTI in the urethra is called urethritis. A UTI that causes a bladder infection (bacteria move to the bladder and multiply) is called cystitis. A UTI that causes a kidney infection (bacteria move to the kidneys) is called pyelonephritis.

Causes of UTI

Normally, urine is sterile, meaning it is free of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The urinary system is also structured in a way that helps ward off infection. However, despite these safeguards, UTIs can still occur. In most cases, UTIs are caused by a type of bacteria known as Escherichia coli (E. coli) that normally lives in the colon.
(Click Causes of UTI for more information.)

Risk Factors for a UTI

Although most doctors believe that a UTI is caused by a type of organism (such as bacteria), they have a hard time explaining why one person will get a UTI and another person will not. Urinary tract infection research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop a UTI. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease.
UTI risk factors include:
  • Gender (women are more likely than men to have a UTI)
  • Urinary tract problems (such as an enlarged prostate or kidney stones)
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Certain habits (such as waiting too long to pass urine)
  • Urinary catheter
  • Old age (elderly people are more likely to have an urinary tract infection)
  • Medical conditions (such as diabetes, sickle cell anemia, and vesicoureteral reflux)
  • Immunosuppressant medications
  • Urinary tract abnormalities
  • Diaphragms or spermicidal foam
  • Menopause
  • Skin allergies to soaps and cleansers used in the vaginal area.
(Click UTI Risk Factors for more information.)


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