About 50% of women will get a urinary tract infection, or UTI, at some point in life. It happens when germs infect the system that carries urine out of the body — the kidneys, bladder, and the tubes that connect them. Bladder infections are common and usually not serious if treated promptly. But if the infection spreads to the kidneys, it can cause more serious illness.
If you’re a woman, your chance of getting a urinary tract infection, or UTI, is high; some experts rank your lifetime risk of getting one as high as 1 in 2 — with many women having repeat infections, sometimes for years on end.
Men are much less likely than women to get UTIs. When it does happen, it’s often related to another underlying medical condition, such as a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate.
Most UTIs are bladder infections. Symptoms include:
- Pain or burning during urination
- The urge to urinate often
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Urine that is cloudy or foul-smelling
Some people may have no symptoms.
An untreated bladder infection can spread to the kidneys. Signs of this include:
- Pain on either side of the lower back
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
Urine is sterile. So when bacteria, such as the E. coli, is accidentally introduced into the urinary system, it can start a UTI. Typically, bacteria travel up the urethra to the bladder, where an infection can take hold.
Women are more susceptible than men, most likely as they have shorter urethras.
UTIs are most common in sexually active women. Other factors that may increase your risk include:
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Taking frequent baths
- Holding urine in the bladder too long
- Kidney stones
Urinalysis – a test of your urine, looks for bacteria as well as abnormal counts of white and red blood cells.
A urine culture test maybe taken to confirm the type of bacteria. In some cases further investigations might be needed including:
- Ultrasound scan of the kidney or CT scan
- Camera test of the bladder (cystoscopy)
- Prostate assessment in men
- Flow rate and post void residuals
Prescription antibiotics will almost always cure a UTI.
Drinking lots of fluids and emptying your bladder frequently will help flush out the bacteria.
severe kidney infections may require hospital care, including a course of intravenous antibiotics.
Treating Recurrent UTIs
- Taking a low dose of antibiotics long-term
- Taking a single antibiotic dose after sex
- Taking antibiotics promptly as self-treatment when symptoms appear
UTI’s – Frequently Asked Questions
When to See Your Doctor
See your doctor right away if you have signs of a urinary tract infection. A bladder infection is generally not a medical emergency — but some people have a higher risk for complications. This includes pregnant women, the elderly, and men, as well as people with diabetes, kidney problems, or a weakened immune system.
Do I have a UTI or Something Else?
Although burning during urination is a tell-tale sign of a UTI, it can also be a symptom of a vaginal yeast infection or certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). These include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. Simple lab tests are available to distinguish a UTI from an STD. Interstitial cystitis has many of the same symptoms as a urinary tract infection. It can happen in both men and women and can start after an UTI.
What is Honeymoon Cystitis?
Few things can ruin a honeymoon like a UTI. But this is so common, it has its own name — “honeymoon cystitis.” The reason is that sexual activity can push bacteria into the urethra. Of course, the problem is not confined to honeymoons. Some women get a bladder infection almost every time they have sex. Women who use a diaphragm for birth control are especially vulnerable.
UTIs and Diabetes, is there a link?
People with diabetes are more vulnerable to UTIs for several reasons:
- Their immune systems tend to be weaker.
- High blood sugar can spill into the urine and encourage the growth of bacteria.
- Nerve damage related to diabetes can prevent the bladder from fully emptying.
People with diabetes should talk with their doctor at the first sign of a UTI.