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Urinary Tract Infection

Other Names for a Urinary Tract Infection

A urinary tract infection is also known as a UTI. A urinary tract infection in the urethra is called urethritis. A UTI that causes a bladder infection (bacteria move to the bladder and multiply) is called cystitis. A UTI that causes a kidney infection (bacteria move to the kidneys) is called pyelonephritis.

What Causes a Urinary Tract Infection?

In most cases, a urinary tract infection is caused by bacteria, which live in the digestive tract, the vagina, or around the urethra (the entrance to the urinary tract). A urinary tract infection can occur when the bacteria enter the urethra and travel to the bladder and kidneys. Although your body usually removes the bacteria, some people seem to be prone to infection.
(Click Causes of UTI for more information.)

Risk Factors

Doctors can seldom explain why one person will get a urinary tract infection and another person will not. However, urinary tract infection research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop a urinary tract infection. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease.
Urinary tract infection risk factors include:
  • Wiping from back to front after a bowel movement (BM), which allows germs to get into your urethra.
  • Having sexual intercourse can cause germs in the vagina to be pushed into the urethra.
  • Waiting too long to pass urine. When urine stays in the bladder for a long time, more germs are made.
  • Using a diaphragm for birth control, using spermicide with a diaphragm, or using spermicide on a condom.
  • Anything that makes it hard to completely empty your bladder, like kidney stones.
  • Having diabetes, which makes it harder for your body to fight other health problems.
  • Loss of estrogen and changes in the vagina after menopause.
(Click UTI Risk Factors for more information.)
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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