The urinary tract is the group of organs in the body that handle urine. The urinary tract includes the kidneys (two bean-shaped organs which filter the blood to produce urine), ureters (two tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder), bladder (a balloon-shaped organ that stores urine) and urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside).
Bacteria do not normally live in the urinary tract, but they do live close to the urethra in women and men who are not circumcised. Urinary tract infections occur when these bacteria get into the urethra and travel up into the urinary tract.
Urinary tract infections are infections that affect either the bladder or the kidneys. Bladder infections are more common than kidney infections. Bladder infections happen when bacteria get into the urethra and travel up into the bladder. Kidney infections happen when the bacteria travel even higher, up into the kidneys. Both bladder and kidney infections are more common in women than men.
Bladder infections are one of the most common infections, causing symptoms of burning with urination, needing to urinate frequently and sometimes need to urinate suddenly or in a hurry. Kidney infections are less common than bladder infections, and they can cause similar symptoms, but they can also cause fever, back pain, and nausea or vomiting.
If you have a urinary tract infection, your doctor will probably be able to tell just by learning about your symptoms and doing a simple urine test. If your doctor thinks you might have a kidney infection or is unsure what you have, he might also do a more involved urine test to check for bacteria.
Most urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotic pills. These pills work by killing the germs that cause the infection.
If you have a bladder infection, you will probably need to take antibiotics for 3 to 7 days. If you have a kidney infection, you will probably need to take antibiotics for longer—maybe for up to 2 weeks. If you have a kidney infection, it’s also possible you will need to be treated in the hospital.
Your symptoms should begin to improve within a day of starting antibiotics. But you should finish all the antibiotic pills you get. Otherwise your infection might come back.
If you are really dealing with repeated infections, there are things you can do to keep from getting more infections. The following advice may be useful in helping you keep your bladder and urethra free from bacteria:
1. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and help clear bacteria from the urinary tract.
2. Go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need to urinate, rather than holding it in.
3. Wipe from front to back after going to the toilet.
4. Practice good hygiene by washing your genitals every day, and before having sex.
5. Empty your bladder after having sex.
6. Find a new method of birth control, if you use spermicides (sperm-killing creams).
The studies suggesting that cranberry products prevent bladder infections are not very good. But if you want to try cranberry products for this purpose, there is probably not much harm in doing so.