Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Urinary tract infection health facts

  • A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection in the urinary tract (bladder, urethra, kidneys and ureters).
  • Common symptoms of a UTI include burning while urinating, urge to urinate, pain in the back or lower abdomen, urine that is cloudy, bloody, dark or foul-smelling.
  • Women are at a much higher risk than men for a UTI.
  • Our providers can usually diagnose a UTI based on symptoms and a urine test.
  • The most common treatment for a UTI is antibiotics.

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What is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of any part of the urinary system. The urinary system is comprised of the kidney, bladder, ureters and urethra. Most infections take place in the lower urinary tract (bladder and urethra).

Women are at a higher risk of developing a UTI than men. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases 40 to 60% of women will develop at least one UTI during their lifetime. One in 4 women are likely to have repeat infections.

In addition to specifics of the female anatomy making women more prone to UTIs, other risk factors that may increase a woman’s chances of a UTI include sexual activity, menopause and types of birth control (using diaphragms and spermicidal agents).

Other risk factors that can affect both men and women include urinary tract abnormalities, blockages in the urinary tract (kidney stones or an enlarged prostate), a suppressed immune system, catheter use and a recent urinary procedure.

When treated promptly and properly, a lower urinary tract infection rarely leads to complications. But left untreated a urinary tract infection could cause:

  • Recurrent infections.
  • Kidney damage.
  • Increased risks in pregnant women of delivering premature or low birth weight infants.
  • Urethral narrowing in men.
  • Sepsis.

When a person has three or more UTIs a year it is considered recurrent or chronic UTIs. These patients may be prescribed a special treatment plan.

UTIs in Men

UTIs in men are very rare. However, they are more common in men who have a circumcised penis and older men. When a man contracts a UTI the prostate is also at risk of infection.

Diagnosis and treatment are the same as women. You can learn more about both of those as you continue reading.

Causes of a urinary tract infection

Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra.

An infection in the bladder is commonly caused by E. coli, a type of bacteria found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This can be caused by sexual intercourse. A UTI can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia and mycoplasma.

But a urinary tract infection also can be caused while going to the bathroom, since the urethral opening to the bladder and the anus are so close to each other in the female anatomy. An infection in the urethra may occur when GI bacteria is spread from the anus to the urethra.

 Our steps to UTI prevention

Drink plenty of water.
Drink cranberry juice.
Women wipe front to back after going to the bathroom.
Women go to the bathroom soon after intercourse.
Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the need to go.
Don’t rush in the bathroom and be sure to fully empty the bladder.
Avoid irritating feminine products include douches and powders.
Stop using diaphragms, or unlubricated or spermicide-treated condoms.
Choose showers over baths.
Keep the genital area dry by wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes.
Use sanitary pads or menstrual cups instead of tampons.

UTI symptoms

Urinary tract infections do not always cause symptoms. When they do, a person may experience the following:

  • A persistent urge to urinate.
  • Passing frequent, small amounts of urine.
  • A burning sensation when urinating.
  • Strong- or foul-smelling urine.
  • Cloudy urine.
  • Red, bright pink or brown colored urine.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Fever or chills (signs the infection may have spread to the kidneys).

The location of the infection may result in more specific symptoms.

Bladder

  • Pelvic pressure.
  • Frequent, painful urination.
  • Lower abdomen discomfort.
  • Blood in urine.

Kidneys

  • High fever.
  • Upper back and side pain.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Shaking and chills.

Urethra

  • Burning with urination.
  • Discharge.

If a person is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should make an appointment with our primary care providers.

UTI diagnosis

Tests and procedures a provider may use to diagnose a urinary tract infection include the following.

  • Urine evaluation. This test looks at bacteria and the red and white blood cells. This is the most common diagnostic tool for a UTI.
  • Lab analysis. During this diagnosis procedure, a urine culture is used to grow the urinary tract bacteria in a lab.
  • Imaging of the urinary tract system. This is done using an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI to see if abnormalities in the system are causing frequent infections.
  • Seeing inside the bladder. We use a cystoscope (thin tube with a camera) to view the urethra and bladder. This test is also for people with recurrent UTIs.

UTI treatment

Our providers typically treat infections with antibiotics. Common options include:

  • Ceftriaxone.
  • Cephalexin (Keflex).
  • Ciprofloxacin (Cipro).
  • Nitrofurantoin (Macrobid, Macrodantin).
  • Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Septra, Bactrim).

While symptoms tend to clear up in a few days. Patients prescribed antibiotics will need to complete the entire course.

Our providers may also prescribe pain medication that numbs the bladder and urethra. For most patients this is not needed as pain usually relieves as soon as antibiotics start.

Treatment for recurrent UTIs

When patients have recurrent UTIs the HealthFit providers will look at additional treatments that may include:

  • Low-dose antibiotics for a longer period of time.
  • Single-dose of antibiotics after intercourse if infections are related to sexual activity.
  • Taking antibiotics for 1 or 2 days every time symptoms appear.
  • Vaginal estrogen therapy for those who are postmenopausal.

UTI home remedies that help ease discomfort

Lifestyle remedies that can help ease the discomfort while waiting for the antibiotics to cure the infection include:

  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Avoiding coffee, alcohol and citrus drinks.
  • Using a heating pad on the abdomen.
  • Drink cranberry juice (or take cranberry pills).

Take the next steps at HealthFit

If you suspect that you or a loved one has a urinary tract infection, you should head to our doctors. HealthFit has a lab onsite that can test for UTIs.

Request Appointment or call (303) 218-7774