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Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

What is a urinary tract infection

The urinary tract has four parts:

  • Kidneys–collect waste from blood to make urine.

  • Ureters (YOOR-uh-turz)– two tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

  • Bladder–sack-like organ that stores urine.

  • Urethra (yoo-REE-thruh)–a tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body.

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in part of the urinary tract.

  • A UTI in the bladder can be annoying or painful.

  • If a UTI spreads to the kidneys, it can be a serious problem.

Download Urinary Tract Infection Fact Sheet

What causes a urinary tract infection?

  • Bacteria (bak-TIHR-ee-uh) are a type of germ.
  • Normally, urine does not contain any bacteria.
  • A UTI occurs when bacteria get into the urinary tract.
  • Most often, UTIs are caused by bacteria from the digestive tract.
  • The bacteria first travel to the urethra.
  • Infection in the urethra is called urethritis.
  • Bacteria can move to the bladder and cause a bladder infection.
  • Bladder infections are also called cystitis.
  • If the bacteria pass through the ureters up to the kidney, they can cause a kidney infection.
  • Another name for kidney infection is pyelonephritis (pi-LO-nef-rite-is).
  • Pyelonephritis can be serious. Sometimes people with pyelonephritis need to stay in the hospital for several days.

How is a urinary tract infection treated?

  • UTIs are treated with antibiotics (an-tuh-beye-OT-iks).
  • Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria.
  • A health care provider must write a prescription for antibiotics.
  • It is important to take all the medicine, even if the symptoms go away before the medicine is gone.
  • Many people feel better in one or two days.
  • Small infections need three days of medicine. Larger infections need seven days or more of medicine.
  • It is important to tell the health care provider about any allergies to medicines.

Are there tests for urinary tract infections?

Usually two tests are done to check for a UTI.

  • Urinalysis—this test looks for cells and certain chemicals in the urine.
  • Urine culture—this test checks for bacteria in the urine.

What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?

Some common symptoms of UTI are:

  • Pain or burning when passing urine.
  • A strong urge to pass urine.
  • Pressure in the lower belly.
  • Urine that smells bad.
  • Urine that looks milky, cloudy, or reddish in color. If you see blood in your urine, tell a doctor right away.
  • Feeling tired or shaky.
  • Fever.

Is there a way to avoid urinary tract infections?

Sometimes changing daily habits can prevent UTIs.

If you get UTIs a lot, try these ideas:

  • Drink lots of fluid. Water is best. Try to drink 6 to 8 glasses a day. Fluid can wash the bacteria from your system.
  • Drink cranberry juice or take vitamin C.
  • 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 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 dry.
  • Don't use the diaphragm or spermicides for birth control.
  • Choose lubricated condoms without spermicides. Or use a lubricant (without spermicides).


National Institutes of Health:

US Department of Health and Human Services

Content created by Office of Population Affairs
Content last reviewed on August 17, 2016