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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen when bacteria find their way into your urinary tract. They are uncomfortable and can cause a lot of pain and urinary symptoms. Luckily, UTIs are easy to diagnose and treat. Here’s what you should know if suspect you have one.

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Signs and Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection

Most often, a UTI occurs in your bladder and is called a bladder infection or cystitis. However, you can get an infection anywhere in your urinary tract. That includes your kidneys, ureters (the tubes that drain the kidneys to the bladder), urethra (the tube through which your bladder empties), or prostate (men).

If your infection is in the lower part of your urinary tract, your symptoms will likely include:

  • Pain or burning when you urinate
  • Feeling like you have to urinate often for small volumes
  • Pressure in the lower part of your abdomen or back
  • Urine that looks cloudy, pink, or red (due to blood), or has a strong odor

If a UTI travels up to your kidneys it is considered to be complicated and is called pyelonephritis. This causes more severe symptoms like:

  • Pain in your back or sides
  • Shaking and chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting

Who Can Get a Urinary Tract Infection?

Anyone can get a UTI, including children. However, they’re most common in women who are sexually active or post-menopausal. In fact, women get them about 30 times more often than men as a result of the female anatomy.

Women have a much shorter urethra compared to men. That allows bacteria to enter the urinary tract more easily. Also, in women the urethral opening is close to the vagina and anus and both of these are sources of bacteria.

Pregnant and postmenopausal women are also at high risk because hormonal changes allow bacteria to grow more easily. Other groups at high risk of getting a UTI include:

  • People with poorly controlled diabetes.
  • Anyone with a compromised immune system.
  • Those who use a catheter.
  • People who have a urinary tract abnormality.
  • Those who fail to empty their bladder often enough or incompletely.

Treatment and Prevention Tips

If you have signs of a UTI, it’s important to call your healthcare provider quickly to seek treatment before symptoms worsen and the infection spreads beyond the bladder. Your provider can diagnose a UTI by analyzing a urine sample. UTIs are usually treated with a short course of antibiotics and most of the time they clear up within a few days.

If not treated quickly or properly, you can get recurrent or persistent infections. It is important to complete your full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your healthcare provider, even if symptoms resolve after just a few doses. In some cases, an infection can cause kidney damage or a more serious life-threatening infection in your blood.

There’s no way to guarantee that you won’t get a UTI. But, you can reduce your risk:

  • Drink at least six to eight glasses of water. If well hydrated, your
    urine should be clear to pale yellow. It is also important not to
    hold your bladder for extended periods of time and to urinate at least every three hours. When urine stays in your bladder for too long, bacteria have more time to grow.
  • Recent data suggests that cranberry can prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall causing
    UTI. Cranberry tablets are available at your
    local pharmacy and would be more effective than drinking cranberry juice (which
    can be bitter or have large amounts of sugar).
  • Females can help prevent bacteria from getting into the urethra by always wiping from front to back after using the bathroom. If sexually active, it is
    important to urinate shortly after intercourse.
  • Avoid using products like douches, feminine hygiene sprays, powders, or spermicidal condoms. These can irritate the urethra and allow bacteria to enter.
  • Wear cotton underwear. Also, avoid staying in a wet bathing suit for too long.
  • Take showers instead of baths.

It’s no fun to have a UTI, so make sure you call your doctor’s office if you have signs of one. In most cases, it will respond quickly to treatment and shouldn’t cause any lasting complications. If you are getting more than 1-2 UTIs per year, you may want to consider seeing a urologist for evaluation of the urinary tract and to consider more aggressive preventative options which may include prescription medications.

Office on Women's Health. Urinary Tract Infections. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Urinary Tract Infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


About Urology

The UPMC Department of Urology offers a wide variety of specialized care for diseases of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs, including erectile dysfunction, kidney stones, urinary incontinence, prostate cancer, and more. We have a multifaceted team of physicians and researchers working together to provide the best care to both children and adults. Our team is nationally renowned for expertise in highly specialized technologies and minimally invasive surgical techniques. To find a provider near you, visit our website.