Dartmouth College Health Service
5-7 Rope Ferry Road, HB 6143
Hanover, NH 03755
Urinary tract infections are one of the most common disorders, second only to upper respiratory tract infections. According to the American Medical Association 25-35% of women between the ages of 20 and 40 have had a urinary tract infection. Most of these infections occur in healthy women with normal urinary functioning.
Your urinary tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Your kidneys filter more than 45 gallons of blood in a day. Urine passes from the kidneys through 2 ureters into the bladder. You eliminate urine through your urethra, a narrow canal about 2 inches long in women, that funnels urine from the bladder to outside the body. A urinary tract infection or "UTI" can be a bacterial infection of any part of the urinary tract.
The organism responsible for 80% of UTI's is Escherichia coli. This bacterium is normally found in the digestive tract and is present on the skin around the rectal area. In women, intercourse can irritate the urethra making it more likely for bacteria to enter the urinary system. If left untreated, the infection can ascend into the kidneys, which is a more serious condition.
Typical symptoms include burning with urination, frequency of urination, and an intense urge to urinate, even if only a few drops of urine are passed. Some women notice that they need to get up at night and some experience back or lower abdominal pain. The urine may also look different, may smell different, and may be tinged with blood. If the infection is in the kidneys, fever, nausea, chills, and back pain are common.
Other than drinking lots of water at the first sign of infection to flush out your system, it is not wise to attempt self-treatment. Your health care provider will prescribe antibacterial drugs. The choice of drug and how long you take it will depend on your history. If you have recurrent infections you may be prescribed low doses of antibacterial medications for an extended period. Your health care provider will go over your medication with you and give you instructions for use. It is important to take all the pills you are prescribed. Do not stop taking the pills because you feel better.
If you have any questions or if any of this information is unclear, please be sure to speak with one of the providers in the Women's Health Program. The telephone number for an appointment is 603/646-9401.
Last Updated: 4/5/10