A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial inflammation in the urinary tract. If left untreated, a UTI can cause permanent damage to the bladder and kidneys.
What causes urinary tract infections?
A urinary tract infection may be caused by one or more of the following conditions:
- A new sex partner or multiple partners
- More frequent intercourse
- A history of diabetes, sickle-cell anemia, stroke, kidney stones or any problem that causes the bladder not to empty completely
- Pregnancy increases your risk for developing a UTI. (See Urinary Tract Infections During Pregnancy.)
- Use of products such as harsh skin cleansers
- Use of contraceptives such as diaphragms and spermicides
- A history of UTI’s, especially if the infections were less then six months apart
- Waiting too long to urinate
What are the signs and symptoms of urinary tract infections?
If you have a urinary tract infection, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Pain or burning (discomfort) when urinating
- The need to urinate more often than usual
- A feeling of urgency when you urinate
- Blood or mucus in the urine
- Cramping or pain in the lower abdomen
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Chills, fever, sweats, leaking of urine (incontinence)
- Waking up from sleep to urinate
- Change in the amount of urine, either more or less
- Urine that looks cloudy, smells foul or unusually strong
- Pain, pressure, or tenderness in the area of the bladder
- If bacteria spreads to the kidneys you may experience: back pain, chills, fever, nausea, and vomiting.
How do I know if I have a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
The number of bacteria and white blood cells in a urine sample is the basis for diagnosing a UTI. Proper diagnosis is vital since these symptoms can also be caused by other problems such as infections of the vagina or vulva. Only your physician can make the distinction and make a correct diagnosis.
What is the treatment for urinary tract infections?
Urinary tract infections are most commonly treated by antibiotics. You may take a single dose antibiotic, or you may take an antibiotic for 3-10 days. Take all your medications as prescribed, even after the symptoms are gone. If you stop taking your medication before the scheduled end of treatment, the infection may come back. Pyridium may be prescribed to relieve painful urination while the antibiotics are treating the infection (this medication may turn your urine a dark orange color). Symptoms usually will subside within 2-3 days, but if symptoms continue for more than 3 days you will need to contact your health provider again.
How can I prevent urinary tract infections?
You may do everything right and still experience a urinary tract infection, but you can reduce the likelihood by doing the following:
- Drink 6-8 glasses of water each day.
- Eliminate refined foods, fruit juices, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.
- Take vitamin C (250 to 500 mg), beta-carotene (25,000 to 50,000 IU per day) and zinc (30-50 mg per day) to help fight infection.
- Develop a habit of urinating as soon as the need is felt, and empty your bladder completely when you urinate.
- Urinate before and after intercourse.
- Avoid intercourse while you are being treated for a UTI.
- After urinating, blot dry (do not rub), and keep your genital area clean. Make sure you wipe from the front toward the back.
- Avoid using strong soaps, douches, antiseptic creams, feminine hygiene sprays, and powders.
- Change underwear and pantyhose every day.
- Avoid wearing tight-fitting pants.
- Wear all cotton or cotton-crotch underwear and pantyhose.
- Don’t soak in the bathtub longer than 30 minutes or more than twice a day.
Compiled using information from the following sources:
American Academy of Family Physicians, http://familydoctor.org
Infectious Diseases of the Female Genital Tract Fourth Ed. Sweet, Richard L, et al, Ch. 15.