Understanding UTIs

Urinary Tract Infection: 10 Terms to Know

Also known as UTIs, urinary tract infections are bacterial infections that affect your urinary system. UTIs are the most common type of infection in the body, accounting for over 8 million visits to health care providers each year in the United States. Women are especially vulnerable to developing UTIs, due mainly to their difference in anatomy that makes it easier for bacteria to enter the urethra. If you are at risk for UTIs, here are some of the most important terms about this condition that you should be familiar with.

  1. Urinary system: The urinary system includes the bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra. An infection in any of these organs is classified as a urinary tract infection, but UTIs most commonly occur in the lower urinary tract, which includes the bladder and the urethra.
  2. Cystitis: This is a type of UTI that affects the bladder. There are different types of symptoms depending on which area of the urinary tract is affected by the infection. Cystitis is commonly marked by pelvic pressure, frequent and painful urination, blood in the urine, and discomfort in the lower abdomen. 
  3. Urethritis: This type of UTI is an infection of the urethra and is marked by a burning sensation while urinating and an excess amount of discharge from the urethra. Urethritis can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, Chlamydia, mycoplasma, and herpes.
  4. Acute pyelonephritis: This is an infection of the kidneys, which is the most serious type of urinary tract infection. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, high fever, shaking, chills, and upper back and side pain. If you start to experience any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  5. Gastrointestinal tract: The GI tract houses many of the bacteria that cause UTIs, especially in women. Since the anus is located so close to the urethra, it is easy for bacteria such as E. coli to be spread from the GI tract to the bladder. E. coli is often responsible for cystitis UTIs, though it is sometimes caused by other bacteria in the GI tract.
  6. Catheter: A catheter is a small narrow tube that is most commonly used for people who are hospitalized or have neurological problems. If you have to use a catheter because you are unable to urinate on your own, this greatly increases your risk for developing a urinary tract infection, since the tube makes it easier for bacteria to enter your urinary tract from the outside.
  7. Urinary sample analysis: This is the most commonly used diagnostic tool for diagnosing urinary tract infections. This test involves taking a sample of your urine and examining it for white blood cells, red blood cells, or bacteria that would indicate a UTI. 
  8. Urine culture: It is common for this test to follow a urine sample analysis if it is confirmed that you have a UTI. This involves growing urinary bacteria in a lab from the urine sample in order to determine which type of antibiotic will be the most effective to treat your infection.
  9. Cystoscopy: If you have recurrent urinary tract infections, your doctor may recommend this procedure in order to see inside of your urethra and bladder to check for any abnormalities. A cystoscopy is a minimally invasive procedure that involves inserting a thin, long tube with a camera attached to the end through your urethra and into your bladder.
  10. Cranberry juice: There are many studies about whether or not drinking cranberry juice is effective for preventing UTIs. Though these studies are not yet conclusive, there is strong evidence that these claims are correct and there is little harm to trying this method, especially if you experience frequent UTIs. 
Last Updated: October 31, 2016