|A urinary tract
infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system — your
kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Most infections involve the lower
urinary tract — the bladder and the urethra.
Women are at greater
risk of developing a UTI than men are. Infection limited to your bladder can
be painful and annoying. However, serious consequences can occur if a UTI
spreads to your kidneys.
Antibiotics are the typical treatment for
a UTI. But you can take steps to reduce your chance of getting a UTI in the
Urinary tract infections don't always cause signs and
symptoms, but when they do they may include:
Types of urinary tract infection
- A strong, persistent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation when urinating
- Passing frequent, small amounts of urine
- Urine that appears cloudy
- Urine that appears red, bright pink or cola-colored — a sign of
blood in the urine
- Strong-smelling urine
- Pelvic pain, in women
- Rectal pain, in men
Each type of UTI may
result in more-specific signs and symptoms, depending on which part of your
urinary tract is infected.
- Kidneys (acute pyelonephritis)
- Upper back and side (flank) pain
- High fever
Shaking and chills
- Bladder (cystitis)
- Pelvic pressure
- Lower abdomen discomfort
Frequent, painful urination
- Blood in urine
- Urethra (urethritis)
infections typically occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the
urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder. Although the urinary system is
designed to keep out such microscopic invaders, these defenses sometimes
fail. When that happens, bacteria may take hold and grow into a full-blown
infection in the urinary tract.
The most common UTIs occur mainly
in women and affect the bladder and urethra.
- Infection of the bladder (cystitis).
This type of UTI is
usually caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli), a type of bacteria
commonly found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Sexual intercourse
may lead to cystitis, but you don't have to be sexually active to
develop it. All women are at risk of cystitis because of their anatomy —
specifically, the short distance from the urethra to the anus and the
urethral opening to the bladder.
- Infection of the urethra (urethritis).
This type of UTI can
occur when GI bacteria spread from the anus to the urethra. Also, because
the female urethra is close to the vagina, sexually transmitted infections,
such as herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia, can cause urethritis.
|When treated promptly
and properly, lower urinary tract infections rarely lead to complications.
But left untreated, a urinary tract infection can have serious consequences.
Complications of UTIs may include:
- Recurrent infections, especially in women who experience three or
- Permanent kidney damage from an acute or chronic
kidney infection (pyelonephritis) due to an untreated UTI, especially in
- Increased risk of women delivering low birth
weight or premature infants
|Tests and diagnosis
|Tests and procedures
used to diagnose urinary tract infections include:
- Analyzing a urine sample.
Your doctor may ask for a urine
sample for lab analysis to look for white blood cells, red blood cells
or bacteria. To avoid potential contamination of the sample, you may be
instructed to first wipe your genital area with an antiseptic pad and to
collect the urine midstream.
- Growing urinary tract bacteria in a lab.
Lab analysis of the
urine is sometimes followed by a urine culture — a test that uses your urine
sample to grow bacteria in a lab. This test tells your doctor what bacteria
are causing your infection and which medications will be most effective.
- Creating images of your urinary tract.
If your doctor suspects
that an abnormality in your urinary tract causes frequent infections, you
may have an ultrasound or a computerized tomography (CT) scan to create
images of your urinary tract. In certain situations, your doctor may also
use a contrast dye to highlight structures in your urinary tract. Another
test, called an intravenous pyelogram (IVP), uses X-rays with contrast dye
to create images. Historically, doctors used this test for urinary tract
imaging, but it's being replaced more often by ultrasound or CT scan.
- Using a scope to see inside your bladder.
If you have
recurrent UTIs, your doctor may perform a cystoscopy, using a long, thin
tube with a lens (cystoscope) to see inside your urethra and bladder. The
cystoscope is inserted in your urethra and passed through to your bladder.
|Treatments and drugs
Doctors typically use antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections. Which
drugs are prescribed and for how long depend on your health condition and
the type of bacterium found in your urine.
Drugs commonly recommended for simple UTIs include:
Usually, symptoms clear up within a few days of treatment. But you may
need to continue antibiotics for a week or more. Take the entire course of
antibiotics prescribed by your doctor to ensure that the infection is
- Sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim (Bactrim, Septra, others)
- Amoxicillin (Amoxil, Augmentin, others)
- Nitrofurantoin (Furadantin, Macrodantin, others)
- Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
- Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
For an uncomplicated UTI that occurs when you're
otherwise healthy, your doctor may recommend a shorter course of treatment,
such as taking an antibiotic for one to three days. But whether this short
course of treatment is adequate to treat your infection depends on your
particular symptoms and medical history.
Your doctor may also
prescribe a pain medication (analgesic) that numbs your bladder and urethra
to relieve burning while urinating. One common side effect of urinary tract
analgesics is discolored urine — orange or red.
If you experience frequent UTIs,
your doctor may make certain treatment recommendations, such as:
- Longer course of antibiotic treatment or a
program with short courses of antibiotics at the start of your
- Home urine tests, in which you dip a test stick into a urine
sample, to check for infection
- A single dose of antibiotic after sexual intercourse if your
infections are related to sexual activity
- Vaginal estrogen therapy if you're postmenopausal, to
minimize your chance of recurrent UTIs
For a severe UTI, you may need
treatment with intravenous antibiotics in a hospital.
|Take these steps to
reduce your risk of urinary tract infections:
- Drink plenty of liquids, especially water.Drinking water
helps dilute your urine and ensures that you'll urinate more frequently
— allowing bacteria to be flushed from your urinary tract before an
infection can begin.
- Wipe from front to back.Doing so after urinating and after a
bowel movement helps prevent bacteria in the anal region from
spreading to the vagina and urethra.
- Empty your bladder soon after intercourse.Also, drink a full
glass of water to help flush bacteria.
- Avoid potentially irritating feminine products.Using deodorant
sprays or other feminine products, such as douches and powders, in
the genital area can irritate the urethra.