Woman discusses UTI symptoms and treatment with her doctor

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Urinary tract infections: Understanding the symptoms and treatment

  • About 50 percent of all women experience a UTI at some point in their lives
  • While men and women can both get UTIs, they are far more common in women.
  • An untreated UTI can quickly turn into a more serious infection

Most of us have felt it at one time or another. You need to pee, badly, and then when you do, you feel the burn. Most women recognize it as a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI).  UTIs can be sneaky. Some symptoms that seem like a UTI can occur with other conditions. Some UTIs don’t have obvious symptoms or the symptoms may vary depending on the part of the urinary tract that is infected. So whether it’s your first UTI or your tenth, it’s important to know about the symptoms, causes and treatment options.

What is a urinary tract infection?

A UTI is an infection that occurs along the urinary tract. It can involve the kidneys, ureter, bladder and urethra. Most of us are familiar with a lower tract UTI, which affects the bladder and urethra. An upper tract UTI is more serious and affects the kidneys and ureters.

Symptoms of a UTI 

The most common UTI symptoms include burning with urination, pain in the bladder and frequent urination. UTI symptoms can vary depending on where the infection is located.

Lower tract UTI symptoms:

  • frequent, painful, burning urination
  • dark or cloudy urine
  • blood in urine
  • discharge
  • lower abdomen discomfort or pressure

Upper tract UTI symptoms:

  • upper back and side pain
  • high fever
  • shaking and chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Sometimes a UTI can occur without causing obvious symptoms. For example, if your immune system is weakened, a UTI may not trigger your body’s infection-fighting response. Many of the symptoms you experience with a UTI are part of this response, including inflammation, pain and fever. Older adults who have a UTI may develop cognitive symptoms such as delirium.

Blood in the urine can indicate a serious health issue. Let your health care provider know right away if you see blood in your urine, with or without other UTI symptoms.

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Causes of a UTI

Most UTIs occur when bacteria get into the urethra and spread to the bladder. Sometimes the body can get rid of the bacteria on its own. If it can’t, an infection can happen. Left untreated, the infection can spread to the ureters and kidneys. A urinary tract infection can be caused by:

  • sexual activity
  • anatomy
  • hygiene habits that lead to bacteria growth
  • ·not completely emptying the bladder
  • hormone changes related to menopause
  • blockages in the urinary tract such as kidney stones
  • anything that changes your body’s normal response to an infection
  • weakened immune system related to a chronic illness like diabetes.

What’s anatomy got to do with a UTI?

While men and women can both get UTIs, they are far more common in women. About half of all women experience a UTI at some point in their lives, and many women have chronic UTIs that happen many times. An untreated UTI can quickly turn into a more serious infection. So, the faster you treat it, the better.

In women, the opening of the urethra is very close to the vagina and anus, and normal bacteria from these structures can easily spread during sexual activity or possibly due to poor hygiene, such as not wiping from front to back. Also, the urethra is short compared to men, so the bacteria can easily reach the bladder.

Treatment for a UTI

It’s important see a health care provider if you suspect a UTI so other possible causes of your symptoms can be ruled out. UTIs are confirmed by testing a urine sample. If it shows that bacteria are present, you’ll start antibiotic treatment right away.

Quick UTI treatment starts here. A UTI can usually be treated with an online visit, like Allina Health Everyday Online. This is especially convenient if symptoms start while you’re away from home, after clinic hours or over the weekend, since online visits have 24-hour access.

It is important for you to:

  • Take all of your medicine until it is gone. You may feel better in a few days, but you take all of your medicine or the infection may return and be more difficult to treat.
  • Drink at least 3 to 4 quarts of fluid each day, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Cranberry juice and water are good choices.
  • Avoid coffee, tea, alcohol and carbonated beverages because they can irritate your bladder.

When to Call your Doctor

Call your doctor if you have:

  • back pain
  • chills or a temperature of more than 100.4 F
  • ·nausea or vomiting
  • ·no change in your symptoms for 3 days
  • any questions or concerns.

Antibiotics for a UTI

Once you start taking an antibiotic, you’ll feel better within a day or two. Make sure you take all your prescribed antibiotics until you are out. This helps your body fight off all the bacteria so the infection is less likely to come back. Because it can take several days to identify exactly what type of bacteria caused your infection, your health care provider may change your antibiotic or have you take it for a longer time. If you have pain, ask your pharmacist for an over-the-counter pain medicine that targets the urinary tract.

An upper tract UTI is a more serious condition. Depending on how severe it is, your health care provider may treat you with an oral and an injectable antibiotic. In the most severe cases, intravenous antibiotics (medicine put directly into your vein) are used to treat a UTI.

How to prevent another UTI

While many women have heard they should drink cranberry juice for a UTI, drinking it won’t cure a UTI. Likewise, home remedies are not cures, but they may help you feel better faster or prevent a future UTI. Some ways to prevent another UTI are:

  • Empty your bladder every 2 to 3 hours. Avoid holding your urine for long periods of time.
  • After a bowel movement, wipe your perineal area from front to back, using each tissue only once.
  • Empty your bladder before and after sex.
  • Wear all-cotton or cotton-crotch underwear and pantyhose.
  • Change your underwear and pantyhose every day or whenever soiled.
  • Avoid irritants such as bubble baths and perfumed vaginal cleaners or deodorants. While soaking in a bubble bath looks relaxing it’s not the best for your urinary tract.
  • And, if you are past menopause and get frequent UTIs, vaginal estrogen may help to rejuvenate and protect genital tissue.

 

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