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Urinary Tract Infections

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a painful issue in your urinary tract. Both men and women can get UTI symptoms, but they're more common in women.

UTI treatment usually consists of antibiotics.

You can also reduce your risk of UTIs by practicing good hygiene and drinking lots of fluids.

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What Is a UTI?

Doctors define a UTI as an infection in the urinary tract. Your urinary tract is a group of organs that remove pee from your body.

UTIs are very common.

Men and women of any age can get UTIs. But women are 4 times more likely than men to get a UTI.

A woman's urethra is shorter than a man's, making it easier for bacteria to move through the urinary system.

Your urinary system consists of the:

  • Bladder. The muscular organ that holds pee.
  • Kidneys. Two organs that filter waste and make pee.
  • Ureters. Two tubes that move pee from the kidneys to the bladder.
  • Urethra. The tube that carries pee out of your body.

What are the types of urinary tract infections?

You can get a UTI in any part of your urinary system.

The types of UTI are:

  • Bladder infection (cystitis). The most common type of UTI, especially in women.
  • Kidney infection (pyelonephritis). When your kidneys become inflamed.
  • Urethritis. When your urethra gets infected by bacteria, a virus, or an injury.

What causes a UTI?

You may wonder, how do you get a UTI?

Bacteria like E. coli live in your stool. They often travel from your anus to the opening of the urethra. A UTI can start when these bacteria enter your urinary tract.

Normally, your pee flushes out bacteria. But sometimes, your body can't fight the germs, and the bacteria causes an infection.

Holding pee too long can also trigger a UTI. When urine stays in the bladder for a long time, it gives bacteria more time to grow.

What are urinary tract infection risks and complications?

UTI risk factors

Some people are more prone than others to getting UTIs. More than half of all women will get a UTI in their lifetime.

You're also at greater risk for a UTI if you:

  • Are an older adult.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Are sexually active.
  • Have a history of UTIs.
  • Have a physical problem in the urinary tract, like an enlarged prostate.
  • Have a urinary catheter.
  • Have diabetes.
  • Have gone through menopause.
  • Have kidney stones.
  • Use spermicides for birth control.

Complications of a UTI

You should never ignore signs of a UTI. If you don't get treatment, the infection can travel up the urinary tract to your kidneys.

Health issues include:

  • Confusion and hallucinations, which happen most often in older adults with untreated UTIs.
  • Kidney infections, when the bacteria travels up the ureters to the kidneys.
  • Problems during pregnancy. An untreated UTI can increase your chances of having a premature baby.
  • Sepsis, a medical emergency where the infection enters your bloodstream. Sepsis from a UTI is rare but serious.

How can I reduce my risks of urinary tract infection?

You can't prevent all UTIs. Some people are more prone to getting them.

But you can take these steps to help reduce the risk of getting a UTI:

  • Clean your anus and outer genitals daily.
  • Don't douche or use feminine hygiene sprays.
  • Drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day to flush out your urinary tract.
  • Limit baths to less than 30 minutes.
  • Pee when you need to. (Don't “hold it" for more than 3 or 4 hours.)
  • Pee before and after sex.
  • Wipe front to back after you use the bathroom.
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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection?

The main symptom of a UTI is pain or burning when you pee.

Other urinary tract infection symptoms include:

  • A feeling like you still need to “go" even when your bladder is empty.
  • Cloudy or bloody pee.
  • Feeling confused, tired, or shaky.
  • Fever (if the infection has moved to the kidneys).
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Pain in your back or below your ribs.
  • Pressure in your pelvis or rectum.
  • Strong or foul-smelling pee.

Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have symptoms like UTIs.

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How Do You Diagnose a UTI?

To diagnose a UTI, your PCP will take your health history and do a physical exam.

They'll ask about your symptoms and get a urine sample to look for infection.

If you have frequent UTIs, your doctor might order imaging tests to look at your urinary tract.

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How Do You Treat Urinary Tract Infection?

To treat a UTI, your PCP will prescribe an antibiotic.

You'll take it for 3 to 14 days. You need to finish all of the medicine, even if you feel better.

If the infection has spread to your kidneys, it's more serious. Your UTI treatment may include IV antibiotics and IV fluids.

If you get frequent UTIs, your doctor may:

  • Prescribe antibiotics to keep at home in case you get one.
  • Suggest taking a daily antibiotic to prevent UTIs.
  • Tell you to take a single dose of antibiotic after sex.

You should keep drinking plenty of liquids to flush out your system when you're taking antibiotics for a UTI.

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Last reviewed by Susan Marchezak, CRNP on 2024-04-24.