The kidneys filter the blood, removing toxins and wastes and sending them down via the ureter to the bladder, and through the urethra to the outside world.
The kidneys also reabsorb water and minerals, to keep the correct balance in the body. The bladder is the receiving and storage area for urine, of which the average healthy adult makes about 1 to 1.5 litres a day.
Infection can occur in any part of the Urinary tract, from the urethra to the kidneys. The most common infection encountered is cystitis, an infection centred around the bladder.
However infection in this organ can spread upwards to the ureters (ureteritis) and the kidneys (pyelonephritis). It is for this reason that the term UTI or Urinary Tract Infection is used to describe any infection in the Urinary tract, in recognition of the fact that the whole of the tract can be involved in the infective process.
Infection of the Urinary tract can arise in two ways:
Ascending Route of Infection:
This is the most common way for infection to enter the Urinary tract. The organisms commonly responsible for these infections are termed the coliform organisms (E. coli, Streptococcus and Pseudomonas) all of which are present in large numbers in the perineum (the area between the genitals and the anus).
These organisms can enter the urethra and gain entry into the bladder giving rise to infection. From there, they may travel up to the kidney and in this way, infection can spread to the entire Urinary tract.
Invasive procedures such as catheterisation and operations involving instruments being passed into the Urinary tract (for example, during the prostate operation), are predisposing factors. Women are far more prone to Urinary infections than men.
The short and relatively wide urethra of women allows bacteria to gain entry into the bladder more easily.
Blood Borne Route:
These are infections caused by microbes present in other parts of the body which are carried to the Urinary tract via the bloodstream.
An abscess present on the skin, for example, can release a large number of bacteria into the blood. These bacteria can lodge themselves in the kidneys, ‘settling’ into the tissues, and cause a pyelonephritis.
Infections of the Urinary tract which are commonly encountered are cystitis and pyelonephritis.
Less commonly encountered is Urethritis, which is a specific infection of the urethra, usually associated with Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Urethritis can also occur from the spread of inflammation and infection from cystitis or pyelonephritis.
If the kidneys are not working properly, toxins will be returned to the bloodstream instead of being filtered out. This can contribute to poor skin condition, lethargy, headaches and a general feeling of being under the weather.
Unhappy kidneys can be spotted by the puffy eyes, dark circles, swollen fingers and ankles, and the lower back ache that they cause. The less water you give your kidneys, the more they will hold on to what they have. Ironically, most people who feel they suffer from fluid retention cut down on fluid intake, making the problem worse!
The kidneys also help to control blood pressure; when they are not working well it can have a knock-on adverse effect on blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure and a regular cola intake, try replacing it with water and you will see your blood pressure coming right backdown to normal.
For men, other problems loom as they have a small gland called prostate around the neck of the bladder and if this swells, as it usually does as they age, it obstructs the flow of urine from the bladder down the urethra.
They then experience problems with passing urine, having to go many times, often at night, which interrupts sleep. Urination is also hesitant and incomplete, with a weak flow and the possibility that stagnant urine in the bladder will get infected. No fun at all.