What is a Complicated Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) refers to an abnormal growth or invasion of bacteria in the urinary system. If a UTI occurs because of a urinary abnormality, such as unusual shape or function of urinary related organs, it is referred to as a complicated urinary tract infection. A complicated urinary tract infection may be more difficult to cure than a simple UTI caused by an encroachment of bacteria, and may be subject to periodic recurrence.

There are many types of genitourinary abnormalities that can lead to increased likelihood of a complicated urinary tract infection. In many cases, the underlying condition is a functional abnormality that prevents a person from being able to fully void the bladder. Inability to empty the bladder prevents bacteria from being flushed out through normal functions, which can allow infectious bacteria to grow and cause UTI symptoms.

There are several conditions associated with the appearance of a complicated urinary tract infection. In men, particularly the elderly, the cause is often an enlarged prostate gland. Other causes include the presence of antibiotic or treatment-resistant bacteria, or the use of an internal catheter. Though uncomplicated UTIs are far more common in young women than in men, a complicated UTI may occur in persons of any age or sex.


Diagnosis of a complicated urinary tract infection may be a somewhat difficult process. Generally, people are encouraged to seek additional testing if recurrent infections occur. If a person experiences three or more UTIs in a one-year period, doctors may recommend a variety of tests to find the underlying problem. Genitourinary abnormalities are not the only cause of recurrent infections; other possibilities include cystitis, poor hygiene, and cancer.

Treatment for a complicated urinary tract infection is generally more aggressive than for an uncomplicated infection. Medical experts often recommend an antibiotic course of 10-14 days, plus additional testing to ensure the bacteria is eradicated at the end of medication. Antibiotics are ideally taken orally, though in patients that have severe infections that cannot manage oral antibiotics may be given injections for the first few days.

Complications associated with this form of UTI may include septic shock, renal failure, and recurrent infections. Since the initial infection may be the result of a functional or structural abnormality, patients may remain vulnerable to repeated infection despite successful treatment. In some cases, the underlying abnormality may be treated through surgery or medication, but this is not always possible or successful.



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