What is urinary tract infection?

Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infection (UTI) in women: Overview

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection caused by bacteria. It can happen anywhere in the urinary tract. A UTI can happen in the:

  • Kidneys.
  • Ureters, the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder.
  • Bladder.
  • Urethra, where the urine comes out.

Most UTIs are bladder infections. They often cause pain or burning when you urinate.

Most UTIs can be cured with antibiotics. If you are prescribed antibiotics, be sure to complete your treatment so that the infection does not get worse.

Urinary tract infection

A urinary tract infection is a general term for an infection anywhere between the kidneys and the urethra (where urine comes out). Most urinary tract infections are bladder infections. They often cause pain or burning when you urinate. They're caused by bacteria and can be cured with antibiotics.

What happens when you have a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

Most UTIs clear up quickly with antibiotics. How long treatment takes and if you will need urine tests will vary. It depends on where the infection is (bladder or kidneys), how often you get one, and how serious it is. Kidney infections and UTIs that are complicated by other things will take longer to treat.

Sometimes UTI symptoms go away when you're taking antibiotics but they come back when you're done taking the medicine. This is called a relapse. It often means that the antibiotics didn't clear up the infection. Or there could be another problem affecting the urinary tract.

What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

The symptoms are different depending on where the infection is.

Symptoms of a UTI in the bladder include:

  • Pain or burning when you urinate.
  • An urge to urinate often, but usually passing only small amounts of urine.
  • Pain in the lower belly.
  • Urine that looks cloudy, is pink or red, or smells bad.

Symptoms of a UTI in the kidneys include:

  • Pain in the flank. This is felt just below the rib cage and above the waist on one or both sides of the back.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Some people have bacteria in their urinary tract without having any symptoms. It may lead to infections that cause symptoms, but in many cases it doesn't. It usually goes away without treatment.

How is a urinary tract infection (UTI) treated?

Antibiotics can cure most UTIs. It may help to drink lots of water and other fluids. Urinate often, and empty your bladder each time. For pain and burning, your doctor may advise you to take a medicine called phenazopyridine. If the UTI affects your kidneys or causes widespread infection, you may need hospital care.

Preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs) in men

You can take steps to prevent UTIs.

  • Hydrate.

    Drinking more water and other liquids may help.

  • Empty completely.

    When you urinate, take time to empty your bladder as much as you can.

  • Keep clean.

    Keep the tip of your penis clean, especially if you aren't circumcised. The foreskin can trap bacteria, which can then get into the urinary tract and cause infection.

How is a urinary tract infection (UTI) diagnosed?

To diagnose a UTI, your doctor will test a sample of your urine to see if it has germs that cause infections. Your doctor will also ask you about your past health and do a physical exam. If you have infections often, you may need more tests to find out why.

How can men care for a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

  • Take your antibiotics as prescribed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Your doctor may have prescribed a medicine, such as phenazopyridine (Pyridium), to help relieve pain when you urinate. This turns your urine orange. You may stop taking it when your symptoms get better. But be sure to take all of your antibiotics, which treat the infection.
  • Drink extra water for the next day or two. This will help make the urine less concentrated and help wash out the bacteria causing the infection. (If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit your fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase your fluid intake.)
  • Avoid drinks that are carbonated or have caffeine. They can irritate the bladder.
  • Urinate often. Try to empty your bladder each time.
  • To relieve pain, take a hot bath or lay a heating pad (set on low) over your lower belly or genital area. Never go to sleep with a heating pad in place.

To help prevent UTIs

  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Urinate when you have the urge. Do not hold your urine for a long time. Urinate before you go to sleep.
  • Keep your penis clean.

Catheter care

If you have a drainage tube (catheter) in place, the following steps will help you care for it.

  • Always wash your hands before and after touching your catheter.
  • Check the area around the urethra for inflammation or signs of infection. Signs of infection include irritated, swollen, red, or tender skin, or pus around the catheter.
  • Clean the area around the catheter with soap and water two times a day. Dry with a clean towel afterward.
  • Do not apply powder or lotion to the skin around the catheter.

To empty the urine collection bag

  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Without touching the drain spout, remove the spout from its sleeve at the bottom of the collection bag. Open the valve on the spout.
  • Let the urine flow out of the bag and into the toilet or a container. Do not let the tubing or drain spout touch anything.
  • After you empty the bag, clean the end of the drain spout with tissue and water. Close the valve and put the drain spout back into its sleeve at the bottom of the collection bag.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.

What increases the risk for urinary tract infections (UTIs) in older adults?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common in older women and men. Things that make older adults more likely to develop UTIs include:

  • An immune system that isn't as strong as when the person was younger.
  • A reduced ability to control urination and bowel movements (incontinence). This increases the chance of getting bacteria into the urinary tract.
  • A hospital stay or living in a long-term care center, where the person may have a urinary catheter inserted, making bladder infections more likely.
  • Problems with the bladder dropping down out of its normal position (bladder prolapse or cystocele). When this happens, the bladder cannot empty completely, making infections more likely.
  • Lack of estrogen in women who have gone through menopause. Lack of estrogen may allow bacteria that can cause UTIs to grow more easily in the vagina or urethra and cause an infection in the bladder.
  • In men, partial blockage of the urinary tract by an enlarged prostate.
  • Other conditions, such as diabetes, lack of activity, poor hygiene, or problems releasing urine.
  • Use of medicines that can cause trouble urinating or a complete inability to urinate. If you think your medicine may be causing urination problems, talk to your doctor.

Older adults also are more likely to have conditions that complicate UTIs, such as a lower resistance to infection. They may require more thorough evaluation and longer antibiotic treatment than young adults who have uncomplicated infections.

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a problem that happens when germs (called bacteria) get into the urinary tract and cause an infection. Your urinary tract is the system that makes urine and carries it out of your body. Most UTIs are bladder infections, but the kidneys may also be infected.

What causes a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

UTIs are caused by germs (bacteria). They enter the urethra and travel up the urinary tract.

  • Germs that normally live in the large intestine and are in feces (stool) are the most common source of infection.
  • Sexual intercourse may move bacteria into the urinary tract. This is more common in women.
  • Catheters are a common source of infection in people who are in hospitals or long-term care centers. Catheters are flexible tubes put into the bladder to allow urine to drain.
  • Sometimes bacteria traveling through the blood or lymph system can cause kidney or bladder infections.

Women tend to get more bladder infections than men. This is likely because women have shorter urethras, and their rectums are closer to their urethras. So it's easier for germs to move up to the bladder.

UTIs in older men are often related to prostate problems. Having an enlarged prostate can limit the body's ability to pass urine.

How well does cranberry juice work for urinary tract infections (UTIs)?

For years, people have used cranberry juice to prevent and help cure urinary tract infections (UTIs). There is limited proof that this is worth trying.

Pure cranberry juice, cranberry extract, or cranberry supplements may help prevent repeated UTIs in women, but the benefit is small. Using cranberry products to prevent UTIs may be expensive, and some people don't like the taste. No single concentration of cranberry juice, extract, or supplement has been studied, so it's hard to know which product to choose.

If you do want to try cranberry juice to prevent UTIs, it's better to drink pure, unsweetened cranberry juice (rather than cranberry juice cocktail). Drinking cranberry juice cocktail doesn't seem to prevent UTIs better than drinking any other fruit juice.

There is no proof that cranberry can cure a UTI. Cranberry is not well tested as a UTI treatment.

Urinary tract infections in men: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Symptoms such as a fever, chills, nausea, or vomiting get worse or happen for the first time.
  • You have new pain in your back just below your rib cage. This is called flank pain.
  • There is new blood or pus in your urine.
  • You are not able to take or keep down your antibiotics.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are not getting better after taking an antibiotic for 2 days.
  • Your symptoms go away but then come back.

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