What Is a 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.
What Are Symptoms of a UTI?
Both bladder and kidney infections are more common in women than men.
Signs and symptoms of a bladder infection include:
- Pain or a burning on urination
- Urinary frequency
- Urinary urgency
- Blood in the urine
- Lower abdominal discomfort
Symptoms of a kidney infection can include the symptoms of a bladder infection 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 delaying treatment can lead to serious complications.
What Causes a 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
- Use of spermicides for birth control
- Conditions such as kidney stones or ureteral reflux that block or change the flow of urine in the kidneys
- A genetic predisposition to UTIs
- For men, not being circumcised or having anal sex
How Is a UTI Diagnosed?
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are usually diagnosed with a urine test.
- Urinalysis checks for white blood cells in the urine that can be a sign of infection
- Urine culture uses a sample of urine to try and grow bacteria in a laboratory to identify the type of bacteria causing the UTI and determine which antibiotics would be effective against that bacteria
In people who have recurrent bladder infections, additional testing may be indicated to check for abnormalities in the kidneys, ureter, bladder, or urethra, or for kidney stones. Tests may include:
What Is the Treatment for a UTI?
Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are treated with antibiotics. In some mild cases, urinary tract infections may go away on their own without treatment, but because untreated UTIs can lead to complications, consult your doctor to see if letting the infection run its course is the right option for your case.
Medications to treat bladder infections include:
Medications to numb the bladder and urethra and reduce the burning pain of some UTIs include:
- Phenazopyridine (Pyridium which is available by prescription, or Uristat, which is available over-the-counter [OTC])
While cranberry juice is often touted as a home remedy for UTIs, there are no good studies on the effectiveness of cranberry juice for treating a bladder infection.
Medications to treat kidney infections include:
- Antibiotics: the choice depends on the bacteria causing the infection and the severity of the infection
- Medications for fever and pain
- Hospital treatment: In patients who have high fever, severe pain, or cannot keep down food or fluids, intravenous (IV) antibiotics and fluids may be given in a hospital
How Do You Prevent a UTI?
People who have recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) may be able to prevent them in some cases:
- Drink more fluids
- Urinate right after intercourse
- It is believed this will 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
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 are effective. However, use of these products probably is not harmful. Tell your doctor before taking any supplements.