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Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, Questions & Related Topics

Key Points

  • A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common condition, especially among women, affecting the kidneys, bladder, ureters, or urethra with symptoms like pain or burning sensation while urinating and cloudy or foul-smelling urine.
  • UTIs can be caused by factors such as birth control methods, low fluid intake, resisting the urge to urinate, catheter use, autoimmune diseases, and blocked urine flow.
  • Diagnosis of UTIs involves a urine sample test for the presence of bacteria or white blood cells, and sometimes a CT scan or ultrasound of the urinary tract is required.
  • Treatment often includes a course of antibiotics, which can be prescribed by healthcare providers at urgent care facilities, alongside over-the-counter medicines to alleviate symptoms.
  • Prevention methods include increasing fluid intake, frequent urination, proper hygiene, wearing breathable clothing, and considering alternative birth control methods if current ones cause UTIs.

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection—commonly known as a UTI—is an infection within some portion of your urinary system, which includes your kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. Infections are most frequently found in the lower urinary tract, so either your urethra or bladder, which is why a UTI is also known as a bladder infection. If you’re a woman, your chance of having a urinary tract infection – also known as a UTI or a bladder infection – in your lifetime is fairly high. According to Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, your risk is as high as 50% to 60%. While men are certainly not immune to developing urinary tract infections, their anatomy makes it easier for them to fight off this infection, as their longer urethra makes it harder for bacteria to enter the bladder.

Urinary Tract Infection May Also Be Known as

  • UTI
  • Bladder infection
  • Cystitis

Top 6 Urinary Tract Infection Causes

1. Birth Control

Certain types of birth control methods, such as spermicides, diaphragms, and condoms that are non-lubricated or contain spermicide, can increase the risk of a urinary tract infection, according to the National Library of Medicine. For instance, diaphragms can slow the flow of urination, causing bacteria to build up, and certain condoms can cause irritation that attracts bacteria, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

2. Low Fluid Intake

Not drinking enough water and other fluids throughout the day could increase the risk of a urinary tract infection. A UTI can occur when bacteria enter the bladder through the urethra, but drinking water can help eliminate bacteria from the urinary system and reduce symptoms. Drinking more water also helps prevent bacteria from sticking to bladder cells by reducing the concentration of your urine, according to NPR.

3. Resisting the Urge to Urinate

Holding in urine for long periods of time can lead to bacterial buildup in the urine and bladder, increasing the risk of a urinary tract infection. This risk may be heightened in pregnant women; pregnancy is a common risk factor for UTIs, according to the National Library of Medicine. Holding in urine can increase the risk for kidney disease in people with kidney disorders, enlarged prostate, and neurogenic bladder.

4. Catheter Use

Using a catheter for an extended period of time (called an indwelling catheter) can lead to fungi and bacteria buildup that contributes to a urinary tract infection. Factors that can cause a catheter-related UTI include incontinence, inability to empty the bladder, and surgery on the prostate, bladder, or vagina. In addition to urinary-related symptoms like cloudy urine, blood in the urine, and urgency to urinate, a catheter-related UTI might produce additional symptoms that include fever, chills, vomiting, flank pain (pain in the area on the sides and back of the abdomen), and mental changes or confusion, according to the National Library of Medicine.

5. Autoimmune Diseases

Type 1 diabetes, lupus, Celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis are just some medical conditions that can increase the risk of getting a urinary tract infection. Autoimmune diseases such as these weaken the body’s immune system and impair the body’s ability to ward off illness, infection, and disease. Having an autoimmune disease can increase the risk of developing a UTI, according to the National Library of Medicine.

6. Blocked Urine Flow

Urine that can’t flow freely through the bladder, urethra, or ureter can back up into the kidneys, causing severe kidney damage and urinary tract infections. Blocked urine flow is also known as obstructive uropathy, and in addition to having trouble passing urine, symptoms can induce fever, nausea, vomiting, flank pain, and weight gain. Some of the factors that can lead to blocked urine flow include kidney or bladder stones, tumors, enlarged prostate, and scar tissue in the urethra, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Possible Symptoms for a Urinary Tract Infection

The National Library of Medicine outlines the following as UTI symptoms:

  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Cloudy urine or reddish urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Pressure in the lower belly
  • Fever
  • Shaking or chills
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the back or side below the ribs

Urinary Tract Infection Diagnosis and Testing

If you have UTI symptoms, you can see your primary healthcare provider, OB-GYN, or urologist, or visit an urgent care facility. If your symptoms include blood in the urine, or high fevers consult a healthcare professional immediately, as recommended by the Urology Care Foundation.

Your healthcare professional will have you provide a urine sample. The sample will be examined by microscope for the presence of bacteria or white blood cells, which signal an infection. This is called a urinalysis. In some cases, a urine culture may be performed. A urine culture will look for bacteria and yeast and can identify which medication would be able to treat the infection.

People with symptoms that remain after treatment may need further testing, including an ultrasound or CT scan of the urinary tract, notes the Urology Care Foundation.

Can I go to urgent care for a UTI?

Yes. Although you may be inclined to see your primary care provider or OB-GYN, you may not want to wait for an appointment. Or, sometimes symptoms occur when the office is closed for the night or the weekend. You may wonder if you should wait for the doctor’s office to reopen, or if you should visit an urgent care center or emergency room.

Urgent care centers can diagnose and treat urinary tract infections. Urgent care centers have night and weekend hours and walk-in appointments, so you can be seen quickly. These facilities are equipped to perform the necessary testing to diagnose a UTI and are covered by most insurance plans, usually with a lower out-of-pocket cost than an emergency room visit. With a quick diagnosis and appropriate treatment, you will be on your way to feeling better faster.

Can urgent care prescribe antibiotics for UTIs?

Yes. Urgent care healthcare providers can prescribe medication for a bacterial UTI. Urgent care providers can also prescribe other medication that helps alleviate symptoms until your infection is cured if needed.

Possible Urinary Tract Infection Treatment Options

American Family Physician outlines the guidelines for UTI treatment (detailed below). Urinary tract infections often require treatment with an antibiotic. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. It is important to finish the full course of antibiotic treatment, even if you start to feel better after one or two days. Finishing the full treatment ensures that the infection is cleared, and also prevents antibiotic resistance. Treating a UTI right away not only helps you feel better fast but also prevents urinary tract damage. If the UTI is not treated, the infection can spread to your kidneys, or even other parts of the body.

Antibiotics: There are various antibiotics that are effective in treating UTIs. When deciding which antibiotic to prescribe, the healthcare provider will consider individual factors such as how effective the drug is, risk of side effects, cost, allergies, and more. Antibiotics that may be considered (along with the most common dosage) include:

  • Monurol (fosfomycin): one, 3-gram dose
  • Macrobid (nitrofurantoin): 100 mg twice daily for 5 days
  • Bactrim (sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim): 800/160 mg twice daily for 3 days
  • Cipro (ciprofloxacin): 250 mg twice daily for 3 days or 500 mg extended-release tablet once daily for 3 days
  • Levofloxacin: 250 mg once daily for 3 days
  • Augmentin (amoxicillin/clavulanate): 500/125 mg twice daily for 7 days
  • Omnicef (cefdinir): 300 mg twice daily for 10 days

Pyridium (phenazopyridine): While Pyridium is available as a prescription product, phenazopyridine is also available as an over-the-counter product under various brand names and in generic form. Phenazopyridine does not cure the infection but is used to relieve UTI symptoms like pain, burning, and frequency, according to the prescribing information on DailyMed. It is not a substitute for antibiotics but is often used alongside an antibiotic for up to two days to help relieve symptoms until the antibiotic “kicks in” to cure the infection.

Natural UTI Treatment

Besides taking your antibiotic as prescribed, you can try some of these tips to relieve UTI symptoms from the National Association for Continence.

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day. This will help you flush bacteria from the body. You can also eat foods with high water content, such as watermelon, cucumbers, and soups.
  • Don’t avoid urination. Drinking lots of water will make you have to urinate frequently. So do just that—don’t try to hold it in. Holding off on urinating allows bacteria to multiply. Also, be sure to urinate after intercourse.
  • Try drinking unsweetened cranberry juice. While research is conflicting on whether cranberry helps prevent UTIs, cranberries can make it more difficult for bacteria to stick to urinary tract walls. Be sure the juice is unsweetened, as sugars can worsen UTIs.
  • Take a probiotic. Probiotics may help replenish healthy bacteria and may prevent bacteria from attaching to cells in the urinary tract.
  • Eat garlic, which can help reduce bacteria that causes UTIs.
  • Avoid foods that irritate the bladder, including citrus foods, acidic foods, caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners.
  • Wipe from front to back. While this is a preventive measure, it is also important to do this when you have a UTI to avoid spreading bacteria.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Urinary Tract Infection Treatment

  • When did you first notice symptoms?
  • How severe is your pain or discomfort?
  • Do your symptoms go away after urinating?
  • Have you ever been treated for bladder or kidney problems in the past?
  • How frequently do you urinate?
  • Is there a possibility you may be pregnant? Get a pregnancy test.
  • Do you also suffer from low back pain, or do you have a fever?
  • Have you noticed blood in your urine?
  • Have you ever had a urine culture?
  • Are you having unusual vaginal discharge?
  • Are you sexually active?
  • Which birth control methods do you use?
  • Do you have any known medical conditions?
  • Do you have any allergies to medications?
  • How much water do you normally drink throughout the day?
  • Which medications do you currently take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements?

5 Ways to Prevent a Urinary Tract Infection

The Office on Women's Health offers some tips on how to prevent a UTI.

1. Drink More Liquids

Increase your intake of liquids — especially water — to reduce the concentration of your urine and flush bacteria from the urinary system. Talk to your doctor about the amount of water you should drink every day based on your health and activity level. Women are generally recommended to drink about 91 ounces (11 cups) of water per day, while men are urged to drink 125 ounces (15.5 cups) daily.

2. Urinate More Frequently

Urinate as soon as you feel the urge, and try to avoid holding in your urine to prevent bacteria from infecting the bladder and kidneys. Men and women should also urinate after having sex to flush out bacteria that may have entered the urethra. If there is no choice but to hold your urine due to factors such as driving or being far from a restroom, try to distract your mind until you can relieve yourself.

3. Wipe Properly

Always wipe from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement to prevent bacteria from entering the urethra. Wiping from back to front can transfer bacteria from feces to the urethra and increase the risk of a urinary tract infection. Whenever possible, take a quick shower and wash yourself following bowel movements to stay clean and avoid infection.

4. Wear Breathable Clothing

Wearing pants and underwear that are tight or made from synthetic fabrics can lead to sweating and moisture buildup around the urethra. Sweat and moisture can attract bacteria and enter the urethra under these conditions, increasing the risk of a UTI. Stick to wearing loose or breathable clothing made from cotton or materials that wick away sweat so the urethra can stay dry and clean.

5. Use Different Birth Control

Consider switching to another birth control method if your current method has caused one or more urinary tract infections. Barrier methods such as diaphragms and condoms are more commonly associated with UTIs than other birth control methods. Birth control methods less likely to increase the risk for a UTI include the vaginal ring, pills, hormonal implants, intrauterine devices, and sterilization methods such as vasectomy or tubal ligation.

Frequently asked questions

  • What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

    A UTI is an infection that can occur in any part of the urinary system, including the bladder and urethra.
  • Who is more likely to get a UTI?

    Women are more likely to get UTIs due to their shorter urethra.
  • What are the symptoms of a UTI?

    Symptoms include a burning sensation during urination, frequent need to urinate, cloudy or reddish urine, foul-smelling urine, and pressure in the lower belly.
  • How is a UTI diagnosed and treated?

    UTIs are diagnosed through a urine sample and are usually treated with antibiotics.
  • Can UTIs be treated at urgent care centers?

    Yes, urgent care centers can diagnose and treat UTIs, and they can also prescribe antibiotics.
  • Are there any natural remedies for UTIs?

    Yes, natural remedies include drinking plenty of water, not avoiding urination, drinking unsweetened cranberry juice, taking a probiotic, eating garlic, and avoiding foods that irritate the bladder.
  • How can I prevent a UTI?

    Preventive measures include drinking more liquids, urinating more frequently, wiping properly, wearing breathable clothing, and considering different birth control methods if current one increases UTI risk.
  • What factors increase the risk of getting a UTI?

    Factors include certain types of birth control, low fluid intake, resisting the urge to urinate, catheter use, autoimmune diseases, and blocked urine flow.

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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