Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of life’s cruel, yet common, conditions that have you racing to the bathroom, only to be frustrated by a meager few drops of urine that burn as they exit. Although they’re fairly common, UTIs can lead to some pretty serious complications if you ignore them.
That’s why Dr. Farah Khan and our team here at Millennium Park Medical Associates in Greenwood Village, Colorado, have put together this brief guide to your urinary tract. We believe that the more you know about your body, the better you’ll be able to care for it, prevent illness when possible, and recognize the signs that you need treatment.
UTIs by the numbers
Before we dive into your anatomy, let’s take a look at the prevalence of UTIs and why it’s important to be aware of your body parts.
- Up to 40% of women in the US have had at least one UTI
- More than 6 million people visit their doctor because of a UTI every year
- About 20% of UTI physician visits are in the emergency room
It’s good that so many folks seek medical care for their UTIs, because when left untreated, UTIs can lead to:
- Chronic UTIs
- Bladder damage
- A narrowed urethra (in men)
- Pregnancy and birth problems
- Permanent kidney damage
- Sepsis (severe infection)
We urge you to come see us any time you suspect a UTI, but if you have fever and chills, upper back pain, racing pulse, sweating, and/or shortness of breath, get emergency medical attention right away.
A trip through your urinary tract
Your urinary tract is designed to filter your blood and get rid of any impurities, which it eliminates by making and passing urine. To tackle this job, the tract includes the following organs.
After you eat a meal, your body processes it through your digestive system, taking what it needs and leaving the rest to be processed by your blood and bowels. This is where your kidneys come in at the top of your urinary tract, processing waste products, including urea.
Your blood passes through these two oval organs situated under your ribs in the middle of your back. Your kidneys keep nutrients like potassium and sodium, remove urea and other toxins, such as medications, and mix them with water to make urine.
To get from your kidneys to your bladder, urine travels down two tubes called ureters, helped along by the contraction and release of their muscular walls. This happens every 15 seconds or so. If anything causes the urine to pool in this area for longer than that, you may develop a kidney infection.
Your bladder is a triangular-shaped, bag-like structure positioned in your lower abdomen. Ligaments attach it to your pelvic bones and keep it in place. As you probably know, this is where you hold urine until you can release it. The average human adult bladder can hold about 2 cups of urine for up to five hours.
To keep urine from leaking out before you’re ready, you have two sphincter muscles that keep the bottom opening of your bladder tightly closed until you reach the restroom. At that point, your nerves tell your brain it’s time to let go, the sphincter relaxes, and the urine comes out.
The final urine journey between your bladder and the toilet is made possible by your urethra, the hollow tube that transports your urine to its final destination.
Which part of the tract is involved in a UTI?
A UTI can occur anywhere along the entire length of your urinary tract, although if it’s in your bladder we call it a bladder infection, and in your kidneys, it’s called a kidney infection. Each part of the tract is susceptible to infection if bacteria enter the system, typically at the opening of the urethra or directly from your digestive tract.
Bacteria that enter the urethra usually come from improper toilet hygiene. The reason a woman gets UTIs more often than a man is because there’s a shorter distance between her anus and vagina and her urethra, making neighboring bacteria a more menacing problem. Her urethra is also much shorter than a man’s, so bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to the bladder.
If the kidneys become involved, the infection can get serious very quickly. So, if you have any symptoms of a UTI, make an appointment at Millennium Park Medical Associates today. Dr. Khan can quickly diagnose the problem and get you started on treatment — typically a round of antibiotics — and you’ll be back to normal in no time. Call or click at your convenience.