Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are among the most common types of infection in the body. Although they are usually harmless, without proper treatment UTIs can lead to serious health problems. Here’s everything you need to know about UTI causes, symptoms, and prevention.
Symptoms of a UTI
Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a painful condition that affects millions of people every year. It is a result of harmful bacteria entering a part of the urinary tract, including:
- Bladder (bladder infection or cystitis)
- Kidneys (kidney infection or pyelonephritis)
- Urethra, the tube that empties urine from the bladder to the outside (urethritis)
- Ureter, the tube that takes urine from a kidney to the bladder.
If left untreated, UTIs may result in more serious conditions, such as:
- Recurring urinary tract infections
- Urethral narrowing
- Premature births in pregnant women
- Permanent kidney damage
- Sepsis, which can potentially lead to organ failure and death.
Most UTIs cause pain and other symptoms in the lower urinary tract. Here are the signs to look for:
- Pressure or cramping in the lower abdomen
- Pelvic pain in women
- Persistent or strong urge to urinate
- Frequently passing small amounts of urine
- Pain and/or burning sensation when urinating (dysuria)
- Urinating more often than usual at night (nocturia)
- Urine that appears cloudy and dark
- Urine that has a strong smell
- Blood in urine
- A very low temperature below 36 °C
In addition, symptoms of a urethra infection (urethritis) can include:
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Unusual discharge
If an infection spreads to the kidneys, you may also experience these symptoms:
- High fever
- Feeling hot and shivery
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the side or upper back
It is important to keep in mind, however, that urinary tract infections don’t always cause noticeable symptoms.
Symptoms in children
Other than general symptoms, children who have UTIs may also experience:
- Feeling unwell
- High temperature
- Wetting the bed or wetting themselves
- Babies and young children may be irritable and not eat or feed properly
Symptoms in older people
The risk of getting UTIs increases with age. Although most symptoms are similar for everyone, older individuals may experience these signs:
- Acting agitated or confused (delirium)
- Falls due to low blood pressure caused by infection
- Change in appetite
- Wetting themselves more than usual (incontinence)
- New shivering or shaking (rigors)
In older people, UTIs may be overlooked or mistaken for other conditions. For instance, some of the common signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, like confusion, agitation, and withdrawal, may also be present in older adults with a urinary tract infection. Furthermore, older individuals with cognitive issues may have difficulty communicating their symptoms, making a UTI more difficult to diagnose.
Causes of Urinary Tract Infections
UTIs are usually caused by bacteria, such as E. coli, that first enter the urethra and then the bladder. Although the infection most commonly affects the bladder, it can also spread to the kidneys.
Certain conditions increase the risk of having UTIs, for example:
- Sexual activity
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Problems emptying the bladder completely
- Not keeping the genital area clean and dry
- Kidney stones and other conditions that block the urinary tract
- Conditions such as an enlarged prostate that make it difficult to fully empty the bladder
- Urinary catheters
- Constipation in children
- Having a weakened immune system due to diabetes or chemotherapy
- Conditions like Alzheimer’s disease that may affect personal care habits
- Surgery involving the urinary tract
- Staying still for a long period of time, for example, when recovering from a hip fracture
In addition, women are at greater risk of developing a UTI than men because they have a shorter urethra and bacteria are more likely to reach the bladder, causing an infection.
In the following section, we take a look at some simple steps you can take to prevent UTIs.
How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections
- Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water, so that you urinate regularly during the day
- Keep the genital area clean and dry
- Wipe from front to back when you go to the toilet
- Be sure to fully empty your bladder when urinating
- Wash the skin around the vagina with water before and after sex
- Urinate as soon as possible after sex
- Immediately change diapers or incontinence pads when they’re soiled
- Don’t use scented soap
- Don’t use irritating feminine products like douches, deodorant sprays, and scented powders
- Don’t hold your pee in if you feel the urge to urinate
- Don’t wear tight synthetic underwear, such as polyester or nylon
- Limit the consumption of alcoholic drinks, as they may irritate your bladder
- Avoid sugary food or drinks, as they may encourage bacteria to grow
- Avoid birth control such as diaphragm, spermicide, or spermicide-lubricated condoms, as they can contribute to bacterial growth and increase the risk of getting a UTI.
If you experience symptoms of a UTI, it is important to get appropriate treatment. Here’s how to know when you should see a doctor.
When to Visit the Urgent Care for a UTI
You should visit your nearest Centers Urgent Care in the following cases:
- You have symptoms of a UTI for the first time
- Your child has symptoms of a UTI
- You are pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI
- You are caring for an older person with symptoms of a UTI
- You get symptoms of a UTI after surgery
- Your symptoms get worse or do not improve within two days
- Your symptoms come back shortly after you have been treated with antibiotics.
IOur recommendation is to visit your local Centers Urgent Care if you have any symptoms of a UTI. t is essential to get medical assistance right away if you have signs of a possible kidney infection, such as back or side pain, chills, vomiting, or fever.
What to expect
Centers Urgent Care clinics provide affordable walk-in treatments for a wide range of non-life-threatening conditions, including UTIs. Our medical experts will determine whether the infection is limited to the bladder or has spread to the kidneys and how severe it is. A UTI is diagnosed based on your symptoms, a physical exam, as well as tests, such as:
- Urinalysis, which looks for signs of infection, like bacteria and white blood cells
- Clean-catch urine culture, which identifies the bacteria and helps determine the best antibiotic to use for treatment
- Blood tests such as complete blood count (CBC), which provide information on the number of red, white, and platelet cells in the blood
- Blood culture, which indicates the presence of bacteria in a blood sample.
In some cases, other tests may be required to help check for other problems in your urinary system:
- CT scan of the abdomen
- Intravenous pyelogram
- Kidney ultrasound
- Voiding cystourethrogram, the test that shows the size of your bladder and how well it can drain.
Most urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics. When treated properly, UTIs very rarely lead to complications.
Mild bladder and kidney infections
If you have a mild bladder or kidney infection, you will get antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading to the kidneys. In case of a simple bladder infection, women are usually prescribed a three-day antibiotic treatment, while men will need to take medications for up to two weeks. Longer antibiotic treatments are also given to pregnant women, individuals with diabetes, and people with mild kidney infections.
Medicines commonly used for simple UTIs include:
- Trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Bactrim DS)
- Fosfomycin (Monurol)
- Nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid, Furadantin)
UTIs that don’t go away with treatment or keep coming back are known as chronic UTIs. They require stronger antibiotics and taking medicine for a longer period of time.
Severe bladder and kidney infections
If you have a severe kidney infection, you will get admitted to the hospital and receive fluids and antibiotics intravenously. This is particularly the case if you:
- Are an older adult
- Have kidney stones
- Have recently had urinary tract surgery
- Have cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, or other medical conditions
- Are pregnant and have a fever or feel generally unwell
For complicated UTI or kidney infection, you might get prescribed fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as:
- Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
- Gemifloxacin (Factive)
- Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
- Moxifloxacin (Avelox)
- Ofloxacin (Floxin)
Some people may need surgery, especially if the infection is caused by changes in the anatomy of the urinary tract.
Recurrent bladder infections
If you get recurrent UTIs, your doctor may consider:
- Prescribing a single, daily low dose of an antibiotic to take for at least six months
- Prescribing a single dose of an antibiotic after sexual contact to prevent an infection
- Giving a three-day course of antibiotics to take in case you develop an infection
- Suggesting that you test yourself for a UTI at home when you have symptoms. Urinary tract infection test kits are available without a prescription at drugstores and online.
Preventing and caring for urinary tract infections (UTIs) is crucial in order to maintain overall health and well-being. Simple steps such as staying hydrated, practicing good hygiene, and avoiding irritants can significantly reduce the risk of developing UTIs. Lastly, seeking prompt medical treatment when you experience symptoms will help prevent complications and ensure a fast recovery.
Centers Urgent Care is here for all your medical needs. Our experienced providers are ready to help. Find a location closest to you here.