What Is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are infections that affect the bladder (cystitis) or the kidneys (pyelonephritis) in the urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, the bladder, the ureters, and the urethra.
Both bladder and kidney infections are more common in women than men.
What Are Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
Symptoms of bladder infections include:
- Pain or a burning on urination
- Urinary urgency
- Urinary frequency
- Blood in the urine
- Lower abdominal discomfort
Symptoms of kidney infections can include the symptoms of bladder infections as well as:
- Pain in the flank (one or both sides of the lower back, where the kidneys are located)
If you have symptoms of a kidney infection, see a doctor right away because serious complications can occur if treatment is delayed.
What Causes a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused when bacteria get into the urethra and travel up into the urinary tract.
Risk factors for developing UTIs include:
- Frequent sexual intercourse
- Bladder or kidney infection that occurred in the past 12 months
- Conditions such as kidney stones or ureteral reflux that block or change the flow of urine in the kidneys
- Use of spermicides for birth control
- A genetic predisposition to UTIs
- Not being circumcised or having insertive anal sex (in men)
Is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) Contagious?
The bacteria that cause urinary tract infections (UTI) may be contagious, but it is uncommon for it to be transmitted from one person to another. The bacteria that cause UTIs are almost never transmitted during sexual intercourse so it is unlikely to be contagious to a sexual partner. People who have who have anal intercourse have an increased risk of developing a UTI due to the bacteria in the colon.
While UTIs often occur after sexual intercourse, it is more likely due to bacteria that exist on the person before sexual activity rather than something transmitted to them from their partner. UTIs are not considered sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which are contagious, transmitted through sexual contact, and may have similar symptoms to UTIs.
It is also improbable for a person to get a UTI from a toilet seat, as the urethra does not typically touch the seat when a person uses the toilet. It is technically possible for bacteria on a toilet seat to get on a person’s buttocks and then spread to a person’s genitals, but it is unlikely.
How Is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) Diagnosed?
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are usually diagnosed with a urine test.
- Urine culture
For recurrent bladder infections, additional testing may be needed to check for abnormalities in the kidneys, ureter, bladder, or urethra, or for kidney stones, and may include:
What Is the Treatment for a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are treated with antibiotics.
Antibiotics used to treat bladder infections include:
Phenazopyridine (Pyridium which is available by prescription, or Uristat, which is available over-the-counter [OTC]) may also be used to numb the bladder and urethra and to reduce the burning pain of some UTIs.
Cranberry juice, cranberry tablets, and a supplement called D-mannose (a type of sugar related to glucose) have been promoted to help prevent frequent bladder infections but there are no studies that show these products to be effective. However, use of these products probably is not harmful. Tell your doctor before taking any supplements.
Medications to treat kidney infections include:
- Antibiotics: the choice depends on the bacteria causing the infection and the severity of the infection
- Fever and pain medicines
- Hospitalization: Intravenous (IV) antibiotics and fluids may be given in a hospital for patients who have high fever, severe pain, or cannot keep down food or fluids
How Do You Prevent a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) may be able to be prevented in some cases:
- Drink more fluids
- Urinate right after intercourse
- It is thought this could help flush out germs that can enter the bladder
- There is no evidence this prevents bladder infections but it is not harmful
- Change birth control: avoid spermicides and diaphragms
- Vaginal estrogen may be recommended for women who have been through menopause
- Preventive antibiotics or antibiotics taken following intercourse, as recommended by your doctor
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