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Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Quick Facts

What is it?

  • A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of any part of the urinary system, the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra.
Laboratory test for infection.Treated with antibiotics.Drinking plenty of fluids and proper hygiene practices can reduce bacteria.

What is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra. The urinary tract is the body’s drainage system for removing wastes and extra water. The urinary system is designed to keep out bacteria. However, sometimes bacteria overcome the body’s natural defenses and cause infection. A UTI in the bladder or urethra may be annoying or painful, but is usually not serious if treated promptly. However, a UTI that occurs in the kidneys can be a serious problem.

  • An infection in the urethra is called urethritis.
  • A bladder infection is called cystitis.
  • A kidney infection is called pyelonephritis.

How common are UTIs in women?

UTIs occur mainly in women and most commonly affect the bladder and urethra. A woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s urethra, which allows bacteria quicker access to the bladder. Also, a woman’s urethral opening is near sources of bacteria from the anus and vagina. Out of 100 women, 50 will have a UTI at some point in their life.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

  • Pain or stinging when passing urine.
  • A strong urge to pass urine or feeling a need to pass urine even after you have just done so (urgency).
  • Feeling a need to pass urine much more often than usual, even if not much urine comes out each time (frequency).
  • Pressure in the lower belly.
  • Urine that smells bad or strong.
  • Urine that looks milky, cloudy, or reddish in color. If you see blood in your urine, contact a healthcare provider right away.
  • Feeling tired or shaky.
  • Fever.
  • Pain in the lower back, which may indicate a kidney infection.

What are the risk factors for a UTI?

A risk factor is the chance that something will harm or otherwise affect your health. Everyone has some risk, but some people are more prone to getting UTIs than others.

  • People who have nerve damage around the bladder, or have spinal cord injuries are more likely to get a UTI.
  • People who have abnormalities in the urinary tract that block the flow of urine from the kidneys to the bladder (like a kidney stone).
  • People with diabetes or other problems with the body’s defense (immune) system.
  • Women who use certain types of birth control like a diaphragm or spermicide.
  • People who must use catheters to empty their bladder.
  • Sexual activity can move bacteria from the bowel or vagina to the urethral opening. Following sexual intercourse, most women have a significant number of bacteria in their urine.

What steps can you take to help prevent a UTI?

Sometimes changing daily habits can prevent UTIs, and you can talk to your healthcare provider about prevention strategies. If you are prone to getting UTIs, try these ideas:

  • Drink lots of fluid—water is best—and try to drink six to eight glasses a day. Fluid can wash the bacteria from your system.
  • Urinate frequently. Go to the bathroom when you first feel the urge.
  • Urinate soon after sex. This can wash away bacteria that might have gotten into the urethra during sex.
  • After using the toilet, always use proper hygiene practices and wipe from front to back. This is very important after a bowel movement.
  • Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes. This helps keep the area around the urethra dry.
  • During intercourse, use lubricated condoms without spermicides, or use a lubricant without spermicides.

Are there tests for UTIs?

Your healthcare provider can conduct a laboratory test to check for a UTI. There are several testing methods:

  • Dipstick urine: This test can be done in a healthcare provider’s office and looks for substances in the urine that suggest infection.
  • Urinalysis: This test looks for cells and bacteria as well as certain substances in the urine.
  • Urine culture: This test checks for the kind of bacteria growing in the urine. It may be done along with a test to find out which antibiotics, medications that kill bacteria, will kill the type of bacteria that is growing.

How is a UTI treated?

UTIs are treated with antibiotics, medication that kills bacteria. A healthcare provider can provide you with a prescription for antibiotics. In order to get rid of the infection, you must take all of the medication that has been prescribed for treatment to be successful, even if the symptoms go away before all the medication has been taken. Less severe infections need three days of medication, and more severe infections need seven or more days of medication. Many people feel better in one or two days, but it is very important to take the entire prescribed dosage.

It is also important to tell your healthcare provider about any allergies you have to medications and to report if your symptoms do not completely go away by the time you finish your medication.

Some women have recurring UTIs (three or more UTIs in a year). Your healthcare provider may be able to help by prescribing antibiotics taken in different ways. For example:

  • Take low doses of the prescribed antibiotic daily for six months or longer.
  • Take a single dose of an antibiotic after sexual intercourse, if infections are related to sexual activity.
  • Take a short two- to three-day course of an antibiotic when symptoms occur.

When treated promptly and properly, lower UTIs (infections of the bladder and urethra) rarely lead to complications. But left untreated, a UTI can have serious consequences, so it’s important to contact your healthcare provider if you have signs and symptoms of a UTI.

Did You Know? (UTI)

Did You Know?

Did you know?Using a lubricated condom without spermicide can help prevent infection.

Learn more about Male Condoms

Content created by Office of Population Affairs
Content last reviewed on May 19, 2019