Diarrhea is a problem of the lower digestive tract, whereas urinary tract infections are caused by problems in the lower urinary tract. Both diarrhea and urinary tract infections (commonly abbreviated as UTIs) could have common causes.
Since both the lower digestive tract and the lower urinary tract are located near each other, it is also possible for problems arising in one system to cause problems in the other system. In such cases, signs and symptoms of both diarrhea and urinary tract infections may occur simultaneously.
Signs and Symptoms
Diarrhea is defined as passing stools more than 3 times a day. The stools in diarrhea typically have a loose and watery consistency. Diarrhea is mainly a sign of some kind of digestive disorder or disturbance. However, there are cases where diarrhea may occur even without any identifiable problem in the digestive tract.
Most cases of diarrhea are acute or short-lived. Other signs and symptoms that may accompany diarrhea include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or cramping, abdominal bloating, and increased flatulence. In case of an infection, diarrhea may also be accompanied by fever. Chronic diarrhea may lead to complications such as dehydration. In severe cases, septicemia is also a possibility.
The main signs and symptoms of urinary tract infections include burning or painful sensation during urination, increased frequency of urination, a persistent urge to urinate, pain in the pelvic and lower abdominal region, foul-smelling urine and discoloration of urine. In the majority of cases of urinary tract infections, the urethra is the first site to get infected.
Read more on UTIs.
The infection then ascends up the urinary tract to reach the urinary bladder. In some cases, the infection may spread even further and affect nearby organs such as the liver. In such cases, pain in the flanks may occur. Some of the common signs and symptoms that may occur in both diarrhea and urinary tract infections include:
- Loss of appetite
In case of untreated infections, septicemia may occur as a serious complication. Both septicemia and dehydration should prompt immediate medical treatment.
Causes of Diarrhea and UTIs
As the name suggests, urinary tract infections are caused by infectious microbes (especially bacteria). On the other hand, diarrhea may have both infectious and non-infectious causes. Some factors can cause both diarrhea and urinary tract infections. Even though diarrhea and urinary tract infections usually occur separately, in some cases they may occur simultaneously.
Diarrhea can cause urinary tract infections
Both infectious and non-infectious types of diarrhea can lead to urinary tract infections. The stool in diarrhea has a watery consistency. During defecation, this bacteria-laden watery stool can come in contact with the urethra, leading to entry of bacterial pathogens into the lower urinary tract. Urinary tract infections are relatively more common in females due to the anatomical differences between the male and female urethra.
The female urethra is shorter than the male urethra. This results in a relatively shorter distance of the urethra from the anal opening in females. Even normal residents of the intestinal flora (such as Escherichia coli) can cause urinary tract infections when they gain access to the urethra. The infection rises up the urinary tract and is known as an ascending UTI.
Read more on E.coli infection.
Urinary tract infections can cause diarrhea
Urinary tract infections could also cause diarrhea in some cases. The exact reason for this is not clear. However, it is thought that inflammation caused in the urinary tract during UTIs could spread to the nearby colon. This is a a very possible hypothesis since the urinary bladder lies very close to the colon.
Inflammatory chemicals released in the bladder during a urinary tract infection could also act on the colon, resulting in faster transit of stools through the colon and rectum. It is also possible for the infection in the bladder to spread to the colon, rectum and other organs in the pelvis. This could result in infectious diarrhea. Infection can also spread to the rectum from the female reproductive tract. However, this is relatively rare.
Sexual activity and sexually transmitted diseases
Diarrhea and urinary tract infections could also result from certain high risk sexual activities and sexually transmitted diseases. For example, anal intercourse can result in injury to the rectum (technically referred to as proctitis). This could be a cause of diarrhea. Bacteria from the rectum can gain access to the vagina if vaginal intercourse happens after anal intercourse.
The resulting infection in the vagina could then spread to the urethra that lies in close proximity. Infections could also spread through objects used during sexual activities. A sexually transmitted disease can affect both the vagina and the rectum. Urinary tract infections could then ensue from the vaginal infections.
Weakening of the immune system
The chances of getting an infection in the urinary or digestive tract increases with a weakening of the immune system. Both urinary and digestive tract infections may occur simultaneously in such cases. Elderly individuals, chronically-ill patients (such as those with diabetes), and those affected with immunodeficiency diseases such as AIDS are susceptible to urinary tract infections and diarrheal diseases.
Treatment for Diarrhea and UTIs
Usually, diarrhea and urinary tract infections occur separately. Therefore, the treatments for diarrhea and UTIs are different although certain drugs, like antibiotics, may be used for both conditions.
Acute diarrhea usually resolves on its own without medications. In acute diarrhea, one must increase fluid and salt intake to stave off dehydration. Oral rehydration solutions are a good way to prevent dehydration during diarrhea. In case a patient is not able to consume liquids, rehydration through the intravenous route is an option.
A bland diet and complete bed rest also aid recovery from diarrheal illnesses. In case of infectious diarrhea, antibiotics may be prescribed by a doctor. It is important not to practice self-medication with antibiotics since certain types of diarrhea (such as pseudomembranous colitis) can be caused by antibiotics. Probiotics can help in the restoration of healthy intestinal flora after a diarrheal illness.
Urinary tract infections are typically treated with prescription antibiotics. Dehydration is also a possibility in some cases of urinary tract infections because of fluid loss through frequent urination. Therefore, oral rehydration solutions may be useful in urinary tract infections as well.
In cases where both diarrhea and urinary tract infections occur due to the same cause, a single treatment regimen may be used to treat both conditions simultaneously.