Pregnancy and urinary tract infection
A urinary tract infection is an infection in the system of the body that makes and excretes urine. This system includes:
- The kidneys
- The ureters (tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder)
- The bladder
- The urethra (a short tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body)
The infection mostly occurs in the urethra and bladder. It can also travel from the bladder into the ureters and kidneys.
What causes urinary tract infections (UTIs)?
Bacteria are usually the cause of UTIs. Normally a person's urine does not contain bacteria. Bacteria are naturally present on the skin, in the lower bowel and in the faeces itself. Sometimes bacteria from one of these sources enter the urinary system. Once there, they multiply and cause pain and irritation.
How do bacteria get into the urinary tract to cause infection?
In many cases there is no obvious reason for a UTI, but some risk factors can be identified and these are relevant to both pregnant and non-pregnant women. They include:
- sexual intercourse: this can introduce bacteria from the skin into the urethra
- contamination by bacteria from faeces - this can happen, for example, if you wipe forward from the anus into the vaginal area after a bowel movement
- partial blockage of the urinary system from the pressure of an enlarged uterus, for example. Stagnation of urine flow increases the risk of infection.
- the use of catheters - tubes which are introduced into the bladder to drain it, when it isn’t working properly.
- when there is sugar in the urine, for example in diabetes or sometimes in pregnancy
Who gets urinary tract infections?
Anyone can get a urinary tract infection, but it is most common in women because they have a shorter urethra than men, allowing bacteria to travel more easily up into the bladder.
Do urinary tract infections cause serious health problems?
Although they can cause a lot of discomfort and misery, with proper care, urinary tract infections rarely cause serious health problems. Most infections are limited to the bladder and urethra. Occasionally a urinary tract infection will lead to a kidney infection.
Are urinary tract infections harmful to pregnant women?
Pregnancy and urinary tract infections often go hand in hand since pregnant women are at an increased risk of developing UTIs. Pregnancy hormones cause changes in the urinary tract which predispose women to infections. In addition, as the uterus grows it presses on the bladder and can prevent complete emptying of urine. This stagnant urine is a likely source of infection. Untreated, these infections may lead to kidney infections. Urinary tract infections in pregnant women should be treated to prevent complications such as premature labour.
How do I know if I have a urinary tract infection?
Urinary tract infection symptoms include:
- Having a burning sensation during urination.
- Feeling an urgent need to urinate or frequent urination.
- Having difficulty urinating.
- Having a burning sensation or cramps in the lower back or lower abdomen.
- Urine that looks cloudy or has an odour. In pregnancy there may be no symptoms from bacteria in the urine. The NHS now recommends that all pregnant women should be checked for this 'asymptomatic’ infection and given treatment if necessary.