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What are Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections?

A urinary tract infection, also called a UTI, cystitis, or a bladder infection, develops when bacteria are able to enter and colonize the urinary tract and, which are normally sterile. Around twenty percent of all women experience at least one such infection during their lives; however, these types of infections are significantly less common in men. In some people, an isolated infection may recur several times if treatment is not effective. These are referred to as recurrent urinary tract infections.

The infection known clinically as cystitis occurs when bacteria invade the mucosal surfaces of the urinary tract and bladder. Most often the bacteria is Escherichia coli or another enteric species. Cystitis commonly causes a feeling of bladder fullness and pain even when the bladder is empty, as well as an increased need to urinate accompanied by the inability to do so. Attempting to urinate is often painful, with an associated burning feeling when urine is passed. The infection may also cause chills and fever.

A single episode of cystitis can usually be treated effectively with a course of antibiotics. A doctor may also recommend extra fluids to prevent dehydration, as well as pain medication. In some cases, however, a single episode of cystitis may turn into recurrent urinary tract infections which do not respond to standard treatment.

Recurrent urinary tract infections may occur when a patient being treated for cystitis does not finish a course of antibiotics as prescribed. This occurs because if the full course is not taken, a few bacteria may survive at the infection point and begin colonization again once the antibiotics are gone from the system. One way of preventing recurrent infections, therefore, is to ensure that the full course of antibiotics is taken as prescribed by a doctor, as well as any other treatment he or she recommends. Frequent urination, and complete urination, in which the bladder is completely voided, helps reduce the risk of cystitis and recurrent urinary tract infections.

In some cases, recurrent urinary tract infections may indicate that a more serious disease is present. When recurrent infections occur with not apparent cause, a doctor will recommend fresh urine cultures to check for the presence of bacteria, as well as several other tests. These may include x-rays, ultrasound, and CT scan of the pelvis to examine the urinary system, and a biopsy of the bladder to examine cells. Possible causes of recurrent cystitis include kidney disease, kidney stones, or structural abnormalities of the kidneys and bladder. Treating these conditions, when they are present, usually prevents recurrent episodes of bladder infection.

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