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Urinary Tract Infections (UTI): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

by Michelle Foster

In the United States, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are fairly common. In fact, they're the second most common type of infection in the body and affect millions of people every year.

Because of this, it's important that you educate yourself on what exactly a UTI is, what its symptoms and treatments are, and how you can prevent contracting one in the first place. Nobody ever wants to get a UTI, but by learning more about them, you can get better quickly and avoid more pain and discomfort.

Are you interested in learning more? If so, then continue reading and we'll walk you through everything you'll want to know!

What Is a UTI?

A UTI is an infection that's caused by microbes. While the majority of UTIs are caused by bacteria, some can be caused by fungi or even viruses in rare cases.

A UTI can take place anywhere within the urinary tract. This tract is made up of your urethra, ureters, kidneys, and bladder. For most people, UTIs usually only involve the bladder and urethra, the lower tract.

Women tend to be more affected by UTIs than men, mostly because women have shorter urethras. This makes it easier for bacteria to get into the bladder.

Causes of UTIs

UTIs are one of the main reasons why doctors tell women to wipe from front to back when they go to the bathroom. The urethra is very close to the anus and bacteria from the anus can sometimes make its way into the urethra. From there, the bacteria can travel up the bladder and possibly into the kidneys.

One may want to consider using deodorant wipes after a bowel movement in order to keep the area fresh and clean.

Having sex can also introduce bacteria into the urinary tract.

Some women are also more likely to contract UTIs because of their genetics and the shape of one's urinary tract can also affect your odds of becoming infected.

Conditions that can increase a person's risk of infection include:

  • multiple sclerosis

  • hormone changes

  • spinal cord injury

  • stroke

  • kidney stones

Also, women with diabetes may be at higher risk due to having weaker immune systems that are less effective at fighting off infections.

Sexual Intercourse

During sexual intercourse, pressure is placed on the female urinary tract. After intercourse, most women will have bacteria in their urine. This is why gynecologists recommend emptying your bladder after intercourse. It helps flush out bacteria that may otherwise find their way to the bladder.

However, the body is usually able to get rid of the bacteria within 24 hours.


Spermicides can also increase your chances of contracting a UTI. That's because spermicides can kill off the healthy or "good" bacteria that compete with "bad" bacteria and may leave you susceptible to infection.

Using Condoms During Sex

Latex condoms that are not lubricated can increase friction and can irritate the woman's skin. This can then increase the chances of a UTI.

With that said, condoms are extremely useful at reducing the spread of sexually transmitted infections. In order to help prevent skin irritation and friction from condoms, you should use a water-based lubricant during intercourse.

UTI Symptoms

The symptoms of a UTI are going to depend on which part of the urinary tract has been infected. A lower tract UTI is going to affect the bladder and urethra. Symptoms of a lower tract UTI include:

  • increased frequency of urination without passing much urine

  • bloody urine

  • urine that looks like cola or tea

  • pelvic pain in women

  • burning with urination

  • increased urgency of urination

  • cloudy urine

  • strong odor

  • rectal pain in men

  • pelvic pain in women

An upper tract UTI affects the kidneys. This could end up becoming life-threatening if the bacteria are able to move from the kidneys into the blood.

This condition is called urosepsis. It can lead to shock, dangerously low blood pressure, and even death.

Symptoms of upper tract UTIs include:

  • chills

  • vomiting

  • nausea

  • fever

  • tenderness and pain in the sides and upper back

Symptoms of upper tract infections are similar between men and women.

UTI Diagnosis

If you think that you have a UTI based on your symptoms, then you should speak to your doctor. Your doctor will go over your symptoms and they'll also perform a physical exam. They'll need to test your urine for microbes in order to confirm the diagnosis of a UTI.

The urine sample that you give to your doctor will have to be a "clean catch" sample. This means that the urine sample is collected in the middle of the urinary stream, instead of at the start. This is going to help ensure that you don't collect the yeast or bacteria from your skin, which can contaminate the urine sample.

Your doctor should explain to you how to get a clean catch.

When they're testing your sample, your doctor is going to look for a large number of white blood cells in your urine. This is going to indicate that there's an infection. Your doctor is also going to do a urine culture test in order to look for fungi or bacteria.

The culture may also be able to help identify what's causing the infection. It can also help your doctor determine which treatment is best for you.

If they suspect that the infection is caused by a virus, then special testing might have to be done. It's rare for UTIs to be caused by viruses. However, it is known to have happened in people who have conditions that weaken their immune system or have undergone organ transplants.

Recurrent UTIs

If you experience recurrent UTIs, then your doctor also might want to look for any obstructions or abnormalities in your urinary tract. There are several tests that they can conduct.

First, they can do an ultrasound. For this exam, a device known as a transducer is run over your abdomen. The device uses ultrasound waves in order to make an image of the organs in your urinary tract which is then displayed on a monitor.

Your doctor might also conduct an intravenous pyelogram (IVP). Here, your doctor will inject a dye into your body that will flow through the urinary tract. They'll then take an X-ray of your abdomen.

The dye will highlight your urinary tract on the X-ray image.

Your doctor might also take a computerized tomography (CT) scan in order to get more detailed images of your urinary tract.

Lastly, they might perform a cystoscopy. This exam utilizes a small camera that's inserted into the urethra and goes up into the bladder. The camera can then see inside the bladder.

During this exam, your doctor might remove a small piece of bladder tissue and then test it in order to rule out cancer or bladder inflammation as a cause for your symptoms.

Treatments for UTIs

Antibiotics are the most common form of treatment for UTIs and your doctor may prescribe them to you if they feel that you need them. You should make sure that you always take all of the medicine that's prescribed to you, even after you start to feel better.

There are also a few home remedies that you can try.

First off, it's a good idea to drink lots of water in order to flush the bacteria out of your system.

Many experts recommend drinking cranberry juice in order to prevent UTIs. That's because cranberries contain a tannin that may be able to prevent E. coli bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder, where infection usually occurs.

With that said, more research still needs to be done to determine just how effective cranberry juice is.

Your doctor might also prescribe you medication to ease the pain. Using a heating pad might also be comforting.

UTI Prevention

There are several easy steps that anyone can follow in order to prevent urinary tract infections. These include:

  • drink six to eight glasses of water every day

  • don't hold your urine in for long periods of time

  • empty your bladder after intercourse or any sexual activity

  • talk to your doctor about difficulties fully emptying your bladder or urinary incontinence

Also, as we mentioned earlier, women are much more likely to contract a UTI when compared to men. In fact, the ratio is 8:1 which means that for every eight women who have UTIs, only one man has it.

Luckily, there are certain precautions that women can take in order to decrease their chances of getting a UTI.

For postmenopausal or perimenopausal women, using vaginal or topical estrogen prescribed by a doctor could help with preventing UTIs. If your doctor thinks that sexual intercourse is a factor for your recurrent UTIs, then they might suggest that you take preventative antibiotics long-term, or just after sex.

No matter what, it's important that you speak with your doctor about which prevention plan is best for you.

Chronic UTIs

If a man contracts a UTI, he is likely to get another.

Also, there are some women who contract UTIs over and over. According to one study, 27% of college women who had their first UTI contracted a second one within six months. And 53% of women over the age of 55 had a recurrence within one year.

In most instances, each infection is caused by a different strain or type of bacteria. However, some bacteria can affect the cells of your body and then multiply.

This can lead to the creation of a colony of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The bacteria can then move out of those cells and go back into the urinary tract, giving you another UTI.

Treatment for Chronic Urinary Tract Infections

If you have three or more urinary tract infections in a year, then you should ask your doctor to recommend a treatment plan. Some of these options may include taking:

  • One dose of an antibiotic medication after sex

  • A non-antibiotic prophylaxis treatment

  • A low dose of an antibiotic medication over a longer period of time in order to help prevent recurring infections

  • Antibiotics for one or two days every time you notice symptoms

If you're not sure if you should contact your doctor, you can also take an at-home urine test, which you can get without having a prescription. And if you're taking antibiotics for a UTI, then you can test to see if you've cured the infection. However, even if you have cured the infection, you should continue to take your antibiotics as prescribed.

The Importance of Knowing About Urinary Tract Infections

While urinary tract infections can be painful and uncomfortable, they're unfortunately still pretty common. However, they're also fairly easy to treat. And by following the information listed above, you can greatly increase your chances of avoiding them entirely.

If you are currently experiencing a UTI, then you may be noticing an unwanted odor coming from your private areas. As you continue your treatment regimen as prescribed by your doctor, you can also combat the smell by using a natural and odor-stopping deodorant.

Michelle Foster

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