A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is precisely what it sounds like: an infection of one or more parts of your urinary system. The urinary system includes all of the organs in your body that maintain fluid balance and eliminate liquid waste. It includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.
While any part of the urinary tract can become infected, UTIs most commonly occur in the urethra and bladder. They are also known as bladder infections. If not treated, the infection can spread to the ureters and kidneys and become a more severe condition known as pyelonephritis.
Pathophysiology of Urinary Tract Infection and Risk Factors
Urinary tract infections occur when a pathogen, usually bacteria, gets into your urinary system. Typically they enter through the urethra and migrate up this tube-shaped structure to your bladder. Because of this, urinary tract infection risk factors include:
- Female gender - the proximity of the urethra to the vagina and anus makes bacteria transfer in this area easy.
- Sexual activity - movement and contact during intercourse can facilitate the spread of bacteria to the urethral opening.
- Post-menopausal age - hormone changes that occur during menopause make the urinary tract less resistant to infection.
- Contraception use - hormonal birth control can cause changes in estrogen levels that make the urinary tract more susceptible to infection.
- Immunocompromised status - reduced body’s ability to fight infection makes infection more likely.
- Catheter use - foreign objects in the urinary tract provide a conduit for bacteria to enter the urethra and bladder.