Common UTI Symptoms and Treatments

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, refers to an overgrowth of bacteria in your urinary tract. Your urinary tract includes the:

— Urethra, a tube that lets urine exit the body.

Bladder.

— Ureters, which carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

— Kidneys.

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The lower urinary tract includes the urethra and bladder. The upper urinary tract includes the kidneys and ureters.

About 50% to 60% of women will experience a UTI at least once in their life, according to a 2019 report in Therapeutic Advances in Urology. Although they’re more common in women, men also can have UTIs.

UTI Symptoms

Symptoms of a lower urinary tract infection include:

— A change in the color and smell of your urine. Your urine may smell bad and look cloudy, dark or red.

— Feeling as if you need to pee but that you can’t completely empty.

Fever and chills.

— Pain when urinating.

— Pain in your pelvic region.

— Needing to urinate more often.

In a small number of cases, a UTI can spread to the upper urinary tract. This is also referred to as a kidney infection. A kidney infection is also called pyelonephritis, and it’s a more severe type of infection than a lower UTI, says Dr. Nathaniel Barnes, a urologist with Memorial Hermann Medical Group in Houston.Symptoms of a kidney infection include:

— A fever of 102.5 F or higher.

— Blood in the urine.

— Chills.

— Nausea and vomiting.

— Pain in the back, side or groin area.

As with a lower UTI, you also may have pain or a burning sensation when urinating and feel as if you have to pee more often, says Dr. Sarita Salzberg, a primary care physician board-certified in family and addiction medicine with the virtual primary and mental health platform PlushCare.

UTI Symptoms in Men

The symptoms of a UTI in men are the same as those in women, says Dr. S. Adam Ramin, a urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles.

Again, UTIs are less common in men, but do increase as men get older. This is because of increased problems with an enlarged prostate, which can cause problems with incomplete emptying of the bladder, commonly referred to as urinary retention. It’s easier for bacteria to develop and cause infections if there’s urine that remains in the bladder.

[SEE: 10 Symptoms of a Kidney Problem.]

UTI Risk Factors

There are several things that can put you at a higher risk for UTIs:

— Being female. That’s because the urethra in women is shorter and closer to the rectum, Salzberg says.

— Pregnancy.

— Conditions that change the bacteria in the vagina, including menopause and the use of spermicides.

Constipation.

— Having diabetes.

— Having previous UTIs. “If you’ve contracted a UTI before, you’re more likely to contract it again,” Salzberg says.

— For men, being uncircumcised because there’s a greater chance of bacteria building up.

— Having problems with completely emptying your bladder.

— Sexual activity, particularly if you don’t urinate afterwards.

— Age. Children and older adults are more prone to UTIs.

[READ: Urinary Incontinence: Types and Treatments.]

UTI Diagnosis

If you suspect that you have a UTI, see a health care provider. Untreated UTIs can spread elsewhere in the urinary tract and become more serious.

Typically, a health care provider diagnoses a UTI using a combination of your symptoms along with a urine test, also called a urinalysis. The health care provider analyzing the urine will check the color of the urine and perform a dipstick-based test that can indicate an infection. This includes checking for the presence of nitrites, which commonly indicates a UTI. Another test a health care provider may conduct with a urinalysis sample is for the presence of leukocyte esterase, a type of enzyme in white blood cells. The most common reason this enzyme is present is due to a UTI.

Sometimes, a provider will analyze a few drops of urine under a microscope and check for blood cells, bacteria and yeast.

A health care provider also may order a urine culture, which involves obtaining a urine sample. This is often done if the urinalysis indicates that you probably have a UTI. Laboratory workers will place a small sample of the urine on a special plate to see what bacteria or yeast grow over 24 to 48 hours. This helps confirm the diagnosis of a UTI and indicates which type of treatment would be most helpful, Barnes says.

Follow directions from your health care provider or lab workers on how to provide your urine sample.

[READ: Yeast Infection and Candida Treatments.]

UTI Treatments

A UTI is most often treated with antibiotics. The type of antibiotic used depends on the type of infection and its severity.

The antibiotics used are usually taken by mouth. In the case of a more severe infection, intravenous antibiotics may be needed.

The typical antibiotic course is a week for a lower urinary tract infection and 14 days for an upper urinary tract infection, says Dr. Jennifer Linehan, a urologist and associate professor of urology and urologic oncology at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. The antibiotic course can also be as little as three days, and it’s typically recommended to use a shorter course of antibiotics for simple UTIs to reduce the risk of developing antibiotic resistance.

It’s possible that a simple UTI in a healthy person can be managed without antibiotics, says Dr. Jessica Lubahn, a Portland, Oregon-based urologist and founder and CEO of ONDRwear, an incontinence underwear company. Instead, over-the-counter medications that help with pain, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, may be all that’s necessary. It’s best for a health care provider to confirm if you do or don’t need antibiotics.

To help cope with discomfort from a UTI, make sure to:

— Drink water regularly. This helps flush bacteria out of the urinary tract.

— Avoid citrus juices and caffeine, which can irritate the bladder.

— Use a heating pad around your belly to help with pain.

— Consider using phenazopyridine, which can help with urinary tract pain and burning. It’s available both over-the-counter and by prescription, sold under brand names such as Azo and Pyridium.

If you find that you get more than three to four UTIs a year, discuss it with your health care provider to help identify why, Ramin says. Potential causes of recurrent UTIs include:

— Bladder prolapse in women.

— Enlarged prostate in men.

Kidney stones.

— Being post-menopausal for women. This happens due to changes in the vaginal pH, which make you more susceptible to infection.

UTI Prevention

Having a UTI is never fun. “They’re extremely common, but they’re not inevitable,” Lubahn says. Here are a few things you can do to help prevent a UTI:

— Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. Dehydration can contribute to UTIs.

— Make sure to urinate after having sex.

— For females, wipe from front to back after using the bathroom.

— Avoid using or only minimally use douching, sprays or powders in the genital area.

— Urinate when you have to go. Don’t hold it in.

— If you have diabetes, do your best to keep it under control, Barnes advises.

— Use cranberry tablets or gummies if you know you’re prone to UTIs. Barnes prefers cranberry tablets over cranberry juice as 100% cranberry juice often tastes acidic and people don’t like the taste. Cranberry cocktail often has little actual cranberry juice and a lot of sugar. Occasionally, cranberry tablets can irritate the bladder lining, Linehan says.

— Try D-mannose, an over-the-counter powder that blocks bacteria from binding to the bladder. D-mannose is a type of sugar related to glucose. Always talk with your health care provider before trying a new supplement. This is especially important if you have diabetes.

More from U.S. News

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Common UTI Symptoms and Treatments originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 11/21/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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