Understanding Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Most UTIs are caused by bacteria, but they may also be caused by viruses or fungi. Bacteria from the bowel are the most common source of infection. The infection may start because of any of the following:

  • Sexual activity. During sex, bacteria can travel from the penis, vagina, or rectum into the urethra. 

  • Bacteria outside the rectum getting into the urethra. Bacteria on the skin outside the rectum may travel into the urethra. This is more common in women since the rectum and urethra are closer to each other than in men. Wiping from front to back after using the toilet and keeping the area clean can help prevent germs from getting to the urethra.

  • Blocked urine flow through the urinary tract. If urine sits too long, germs may start to grow out of control.

Side view cross section of female urinary tract.

Side view cross section of male urinary tract.

Parts of the urinary tract

The infection can occur in any part of the urinary tract.

  • The kidneys. These organs collect and store urine.

  • The ureters. These tubes carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

  • The bladder. This holds urine until you are ready to let it out.

  • The urethra. This tube carries urine from the bladder out of the body. It is shorter in women, so bacteria can move through it more easily. The urethra is longer in men, so a UTI is less likely to reach the bladder or kidneys in men.