Urinary Tract and Kidney Infections in Pregnancy
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a very common medical complication of pregnancy.
Untreated, a UTI can cause serious problems in pregnancy. Normal urine is sterile.
It contains fluids, salts, and waste products. It is free of bacteria, viruses, and
fungi. The tissues of the bladder are isolated from urine and toxic substances by
a coating that discourages bacteria from attaching and growing on the bladder wall.
The main parts of the urinary tract are:
Two kidneys. A pair of purplish-brown organs located below the ribs toward the middle
of the back.
Two ureters. Narrow tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
Bladder. A triangle-shaped, hollow organ located in the lower belly.
Two sphincter muscles. Circular muscles that help keep urine from leaking by closing
tightly like a rubber band around the opening of the bladder.
Urethra. The tube that allows urine to pass outside the body.
Types of infections
During pregnancy, there are normal changes in the function and anatomy of the urinary
tract. These include kidney enlargement, and compression of the ureters and bladder
by the growing uterus. During pregnancy, the bladder does not empty as well. The urine
is not as acidic and it contains more sugars, protein, and hormones. All of these
factors can increase the risk for a UTI.
Asymptomatic bacteriuria. A silent (without symptoms) infection often caused by bacteria
present in the woman's system before pregnancy. This type of infection happens in
about 5% to 10% of pregnant women. Asymptomatic bacteriuria may lead to acute bladder
infection or kidney infection if left untreated.
Acute urethritis or cystitis. A urethral or bladder infection that causes symptoms
including pain or burning with urination, frequent urination, feeling of needing to
urinate, and fever.
Pyelonephritis. A kidney infection. Symptoms of pyelonephritis may include those of
acute cystitis plus flank (back) pain. Pyelonephritis may lead to preterm labor, severe
infection, and adult respiratory distress syndrome.
The most common organism that causes UTI is Escherichia coli (E. coli), a normal organism of the vagina and rectal area. Other organisms may also cause
UTI, including group B streptococcus, and sexually transmitted gonorrhea and chlamydia.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnosis of UTI is made
by urine testing and culture for bacteria. It is recommended that women be tested
at the first prenatal visit and during pregnancy.
Treatment of UTI is important to prevent serious complications. Antibiotics may be
given. Women with pyelonephritis in pregnancy often need to be hospitalized to receive
intravenous (IV) antibiotics.