What YOU need to know about Urinary Tract Infections

09/ 07/ 2016


What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?


A UTI is an infection in the urinary tract. Infections are caused by microbes—organisms too small to be seen without a microscope. Bacteria are the most common cause of UTIs. Normally, bacteria that enter the urinary tract are quickly removed by the body before they cause symptoms. But sometimes bacteria overcome the body’s natural defenses and cause infection.


What causes UTIs?


Bacteria, a type of germ that gets into your urinary tract, cause a UTI. This can happen in many ways:


  • • Wiping from back to front after a bowel movement (BM). Germs can get into your urethra, which has its opening in front of the vagina.


• Having sexual intercourse. Germs in the vagina can be pushed into the urethra.


• Waiting too long to pass urine. When urine stays in the bladder for a long time, more germs are made, and the worse a UTI can become.


• Using a diaphragm for birth control, or spermicides (creams that kill sperm) with a diaphragm or on a condom.


• Anything that makes it hard to completely empty your bladder, like a kidney stone.


• Having diabetes, which makes it harder for your body to fight other health problems.


• Loss of estrogen (a hormone) and changes in the vagina after menopause. Menopause is when you stop getting your period.


• Having had a catheter in place. A catheter is a thin tube put through the urethra into the bladder. It’s used to drain urine during a      medical test and for people who cannot pass urine on their own.



What are the signs and symptoms of a UTI?


You should see your health care provider if you have any of these signs or symptoms:


  •  • A burning feeling when you urinate
  •  • Frequent or intense urges to urinate, even when you have little urine to pass
  •  • Pain in your back or side below the ribs
  •  • Cloudy, dark, bloody, or foul-smelling urine
  •  • Fever or chills


How are UTIs diagnosed?


Health care providers diagnose UTIs by asking about your symptoms and then testing a sample of your urine. Your urine will be checked with a microscope for bacteria and white blood cells, which the body produces to fight infection. Because bacteria can be found in the urine of healthy people, a UTI is diagnosed based both on symptoms and a lab test



How are UTIs treated?


UTIs are treated with antibiotics that can kill the bacteria causing the infection. The antibiotic prescribed will depend on the type of bacteria causing your UTI. Some antibiotics may be ruled out if you have allergies to them. Tell your health care provider if you are allergic to any medicines.

You may need to take antibiotics for a few days or for 7 days or longer. The length of treatment depends on a few factors:


How severe the infection is:

•Whether you were given the right antibiotic at first.

•Whether the bacteria resists the antibiotic.

•Whether you have repeat infections.

•Whether you have a urinary tract abnormality that blocks the flow of urine.

•Whether you are male or female; men may need longer treatment because bacteria can hide deep inside prostate tissue.


Follow your health care provider’s instructions carefully and completely when taking antibiotics.


Drinking lots of fluids and urinating frequently will speed healing. If needed, you may take various medicines to relieve the pain of a UTI. A heating pad on the back or abdomen may also help.


Will UTIs come back?


For most people, the answer is no. But about one out of every five young women who have a UTI will have another one. Some women have three or more UTIs a year. Men are less likely than women to have a first UTI. But once a man has a UTI, he is likely to have another because bacteria can hide deep inside prostate tissue.


Anyone who has diabetes or a problem that makes it hard to urinate may have repeat infections. If you have repeat infections, your health care provider may refer you to a urologist. Talk with your health care provider or urologist about special treatment plans. For example, you may need to take antibiotics for a longer period of time to help prevent repeat infections. Some patients with frequent UTIs are given a supply of antibiotics to be started at the first sign of infection. Make sure you understand and follow the instructions your health care provider or urologist gives you.



How can I prevent repeat UTIs?


In addition to taking antibiotics, changing some of your daily habits and lifestyle choices may help you prevent repeat UTIs.


Eating, Diet, and Nutrition


Drinking lots of fluid can help flush bacteria from your system. Water is best. Most people should try for six to eight, 8-ounce glasses a day. Talk with your health care provider if you can’t drink the recommended amount due to other health problems, such as urinary incontinence, urinary frequency, or kidney failure.


Bathroom Habits


Urinate often and when you first feel the urge. Bacteria can grow when urine stays in the bladder too long. Urinate shortly after sex to flush away bacteria that might have entered your urethra during sex. Drinking a glass of water will also help flush bacteria away.

After using the toilet, always wipe from front to back. This step is most important after a bowel movement to keep from getting bacteria into the urethra.




Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes so air can keep the area around the urethra dry. Avoid nylon underwear and tight-fitting jeans, which can trap moisture and help bacteria grow.


Birth Control


For women, using a diaphragm or spermicide for birth control can lead to UTIs by increasing bacteria growth. If you have trouble with UTIs, try switching to a new form of birth control. Unlubricated condoms or spermicidal condoms increase irritation, which may help bacteria grow. Consider switching to lubricated condoms without spermicide or using a nonspermicidal lubricant.



National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases