You notice an unusual “burning” feeling when urinating or feel the need to try to urinate more frequently than you normally do. These signs might mean that you have a urinary tract infection (UTI).
If you have any signs or symptoms of a UTI, you should seek medical treatment. An untreated UTI can lead to more serious infections or complications.
MedExpress centers are open during convenient hours, so you can get treatment when you need it. Visit your local MedExpress at the first sign of a UTI and our caring, friendly medical team can help you feel better fast.
What is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system, which includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most UTIs happen in the lower part of your urinary tract — the bladder or urethra, the tube that takes urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
UTIs usually happen when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder. Our urinary tracts are made to keep out unwanted bacteria, but sometimes these microbes slip past our bodies’ defenses.
UTIs are more common in women because of female anatomy — there is a shorter distance from the urethra to the anus as well as the urethral opening to the bladder. UTI causes are varied and post-menopausal women are particularly susceptible. Mostly, though, these infections are caused by bacteria commonly found in the gastroenterological tract, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli).
Older adults are at a higher risk of getting a UTI due to age-related changes in the body's immune system. Other causes may include:
- Bladder or bowel incontinence. If you wear diapers or suffer from incontinence, frequent washing can help prevent this risk.
- Catheter use.
- Menopause. This decreases estrogen levels, which can disrupt your vagina's proper bacterial balance.
Symptoms of a UTI
When you have a UTI, you may not experience any symptoms. If you do, they usually include:
- A strong urge to urinate
- A “burning” feeling when urinating
- Only urinating small amounts, frequently
- Cloudy urine
- Urine that might look pink or reddish — this is a sign of blood in your urine
- Strong-smelling urine
- Women might experience pelvic pain
If the kidneys are infected, you might experience:
- Upper back pain
- Shaking or chills
Diagnosing a UTI
To diagnose a UTI, you’ll give a urine sample that will be analyzed by our medical team. This urinalysis can reveal signs of infection, such as a cloudy appearance and altered pH, as well as other more specific findings, such as byproducts of bacteria and white blood cells.
To identify the specific bacteria causing the infection, your provider may recommend obtaining a urine culture. For this, a urine sample will be sent to an outside lab. In addition to growing the bacteria for identification, it also allows the lab to check what antibiotics will effectively kill the bacteria so that proper treatment can be assured.
Because UTIs are caused by bacteria, they are treated with antibiotics. UTI treatment should begin as soon as the infection is diagnosed. If a urine culture is obtained, it can help guide the proper antibiotic choice, but most likely an empiric antibiotic will be started at the time of the visit in hopes of clearing up the infection as soon as possible
Some complications of an untreated UTI include:
- Recurrent infections, especially for those who have had a least two UTIs in a six-month period or who have had at least four in a year
- Permanent kidney damage from a kidney infection
- Sepsis, which is a serious and potentially life-threatening complication of an infection
Preventing a UTI in the Future
- Drink plenty of fluids: Remaining hydrated throughout the day will help you to urinate more often and flush more bacteria out of your urinary tract. Your goal should be 6 to 8 glasses a day. Limit and avoid caffeinated and alcohol drinks, as they may irritate your bladder.
- Don't "hold it:" Holding in urine can make it easier for bacteria to remain in your urinary tract. Other than when you sleep, you should urinate at least once every four hours and always completely empty your bladder.
- Wipe the right way: It's a simple way to avoid a UTI. Simply wipe from front to back, keeping any waste away from your genital area. After all, your rectum is a major source of E. coli, which can lead to infection. This is particularly important when you have diarrhea, which can make it hard to control bowel movements.
- Check your birth control: Some forms of birth control, like spermicides, diaphragms and non-lubricated or spermicide condoms, may make you more prone to bladder infections or UTIs. Check with your provider to determine the best birth control for you.
- Urinate before and after sexual activity: For women, sexual activity may lead to UTIs. One way to reduce the risk of baceria getting into your urethra is to urinate before and immediately after sex to flush out your system. Gently washing your genital area before sexual activity may also reduce harmful bacteria.
- Drink cranberry juice: While studies have been inconclusive, cranberries may help prevent UTIs in some people. Compounds in the berries called proanthocyanins may prevent E. coli from sticking to tissues in your urinary tract while the vitamin C in cranberry juice may increase the acidity of your urine, which could reduce the growth of bad bacteria. You may either try low sugar cranberry juice, raw or frozen cranberries or cranberry pills to see if these benefits help you. Please note: There is no evidence that you can treat a current infection with cranberries.
- Stay away from scented products: Women should avoid any scented hygiene products, which can disrupt the level of healthy bacteria in their vagina. This can result in immune system disruptions such as bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections and UTIs.