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Do I Have a UTI? And Other Burning Questions

It's not something you think about—until something doesn't feel right. Then, panic can set in. Even though urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common issue, it doesn't make them any less painful or worrisome.

UTI: The Basics

A UTI is an infection of the urinary system or renal system that is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and the urethra. You should call your doctor if you notice any of the following tell-tale UTI symptoms:

  • Painful urination
  • Frequent bathroom visits
  • Extreme urgency
  • Bad-smelling urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Flank or lower abdominal pain

You can use over-the-counter UTI tests to determine the presence of inflammatory cells in urine then contact or see your primary care provider for evaluation and treatment.

UTI Causes

Despite popular opinion, tight clothing, and diet do not cause UTIs. Anatomy does play a role, though. A UTI usually is an infection that comes from the bacteria around vagina and rectum.

"The distance between the urethra and the rectum is short, so it's a quick easy transmission," says Hanadi Farrukh, MD, an internal medicine specialist at University of Utah Health.

Sexual intercourse, birth control methods such as diaphragm and spermicidal use, diabetes, obesity, incomplete emptying of bladder, vaginal dryness related to menopause, inappropriate wiping, and diarrhea can lead to UTI in women.

Men and Urinary Tract Infections

Holding urine for too long can cause a UTI for both men and women. An enlarged prostate can prevent some men from emptying their bladder fully, increasing the chances of UTI that can progress to kidney or prostate infection.

"People who can't empty their bladder efficiently due to prolapse of bladder (cystocele) or a pelvic prolapse are at increased risk of infection," Farrukh says.

How to Get Rid of a UTI

Your primary care doctor may prescribe an antibiotic. Over-the-counter medicines like Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are helpful for pain and fever. Phenazopyridine helps the urinary urgency and burning sensation but will not cure UTI, so you should talk to your doctor about antibiotic treatment.

While most UTI infections can be cured with three to five days of antibiotics, some simple UTIs can become complicated and present real health concerns. These conditions can increase your chances of a complicated UTI:

  • Kidney stones
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy

Symptoms in elderly patients may present as weakness, recurrent falls, and mental confusion. If untreated, a UTI can affect the kidneys, and cause abdominal pain, fever, mental confusion, and septic shock. Severe pelvic pain, flank pain, chills with fever, and a fever above or equal to 100º can indicate a kidney infection and require urgent evaluation.

Home Remedies for UTI

It's important to drink enough fluids, about 64 ounces daily, urinate when you need to, and empty your bladder efficiently. Many people try to find healing in cranberry pills or cranberry juice, but Farrukh says, "It's really not clear whether cranberry does anything at this point. We tell patients if they want to use it, it's fine. But we don't have confidence that it can prevent or cure UTI."

UTI Prevention

Hydrating and emptying the bladder are the most important prevention efforts. Women should also wipe front to back, and urinate after intercourse. For women who have recurrent UTI, they should discuss preventive antibiotics with their physician. Post-menopausal women may benefit from vaginal estrogen.

Urinary tract infections can be serious, but they are easily treated. "Urinary tract infections are very common," Farrukh says. "Most women have a UTI at some point in their life. Primary care is always the first line of defense."