Urinary Tract Infections

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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If you’re a woman, chances are you will get a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in your life. The most common form is a bladder infection, but a UTI can occur anywhere in the urinary tract. This includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Seeking treatment early—when you first experience symptoms—can save you from major discomfort and prevent a more serious infection.

Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections 

The symptoms of a UTI are the result of the bladder and urethra lining becoming inflamed and irritated from the infection. If you have any of the following symptoms, you may have a UTI:

  • Burning, stinging, pain or cramping with urination 
  • Cloudy, bloody, or foul-smelling urine 
  • Feeling like your bladder doesn’t fully empty after you urinate
  • Frequent urge to urinate, but not much urine comes out
  • Leaking urine 
  • Pressure or pain in your pelvic area or lower belly 

Call your doctor if you think you have a UTI. Your doctor may want to test a urine sample to find out the exact cause of your infection.

Causes of Urinary Tract Infections 

Normally, urine is sterile, meaning there are no microorganisms in it. UTIs occur when bacteria get into the urethra—or the opening of the urinary tract—and travel to the bladder or beyond. Women are more prone to UTIs because the urethra is close to the rectum. Bacteria are plentiful in the rectal area. Women also have a short urethra, which allows bacteria to reach the bladder more easily. 

In addition to being a woman, factors that increase your risk of developing a UTI include:

  • Being postmenopausal—losing estrogen can cause changes that make UTIs more likely
  • Being sexually active—sexual intercourse can introduce bacteria into the urethra 
  • Having a health condition, such as kidney stones or a bladder condition, that makes it difficult to fully empty your bladder 
  • Having diabetes—diabetes reduces your ability to fight infections. UTIs in diabetics are often caused by less common bacteria which influences the type of antibiotic used to treat the infection.
  • Using a diaphragm for birth control—diaphragms can make it harder to completely empty your bladder because they push against the urethra
  • Using spermicides or taking certain antibiotics can change the normal bacterial environment of the vaginal opening
  • Wiping from back to front—this spreads bacteria from the rectal area to the urethra. Instead, make sure you always wipe front to back, especially after a bowel movement.

Treating Urinary Tract Infections

Since bacteria cause UTIs, you’ll need an antibiotic to treat them. Usually, a short course lasting a few days is all you need to treat a simple UTI. Your symptoms should improve after a couple of days, but it’s important to take the whole course of antibiotics. Skipping doses or not taking the full course could cause the UTI to come back and it may be harder to treat. Your doctor may also give you medicine to numb your urinary tract until the antibiotic starts working. Your urine may turn orange while you take this medicine. 

Drink plenty of fluids while you are on treatment for a UTI. Water is the best choice. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol. They can irritate the bladder and cause dehydration.

If you get frequent UTIs—three or more in a year—talk with your doctor. You may need preventive antibiotics. This may mean a daily antibiotic or just taking one when you know you’re at risk, such as after sex. Other prevention strategies include drinking plenty of fluids, not holding your urine for long periods, urinating after sex, and using lubrication during sex.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Urinary Tract Infection Fact Sheet. Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/urinary-tract-infection.html

  2. Urinary Tract Infections. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infections.html

  3. Urinary Tract Infections in Adults. American Urological Association. http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=47