What are urinary tract infections?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that occurs in any part of your urinary system. Although most infections occur in the lower tract (bladder or urethra), your kidneys and ureters may also become infected.  Lower UTIs are usually easily treatable; however, you may experience severe symptoms once the infection has reached the kidneys.

What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?

Symptoms range in severity: some individuals will experience minor or no symptoms; others will have severe and persisting ones.

You may experience the following symptoms:

  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Strong, lasting urge to urinate
  • Strong-smelling and/or cloudy urine
  • Discolored urine or blood in the urine
  • Pelvic pain (in women) or rectal pain (in men)

You may also experience one or more of the following symptoms if your UTI is severe:

  • High fever and chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Upper back pain

What causes urinary tract infections?

Urinary infections occur when bacteria enter the urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder. If the bacteria continue to grow or spread, a UTI will occur. Women, especially those who are sexually active, are more likely to experience UTIs than men. Other risk factors include urinary tract abnormalities or blockages, use of certain birth control methods, a suppressed immune system, and catheter use.

How are urinary tract infections treated?

UTIs are treated with antibiotics. After assessing your overall health, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that is effective in fighting the specific bacteria infecting your urinary tract. Your doctor may also prescribe a pain medication to numb the bladder and urethra. Severe UTIs may require intravenous antibiotics or hospitalization.

If recovering from a UTI, you must drink plenty of fluids and avoid any beverages that may irritate your bladder (alcohol, coffee, soft drinks). In addition to subscribed pain medications, heating pads also reduce the severity of abdominal or pelvic pain.

Can you prevent urinary tract infections?

You may be able to reduce your risk of UTIs by taking the following actions:

  • Flush bacteria from your UT by drinking plenty of water.
  • Empty your bladder after intercourse.
  • Take a prescribed antibiotic after intercourse.
  • Avoid feminine protects that could irritate the UTI (deodorant sprays, powders, and douches).

If you are a woman generally in good health but who has had a urinary tract infection in the past 6 months, you may be eligible to participate in a research study evaluating the effects of cranberry beverage on urinary tract infection reoccurrence.