Aug 23, 2021 11:45 AM

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

Hanadi Farrukh, MD, an internal medicine specialist and assistant professor in the School of Medicine at University of Utah Health, answers questions patients typically want to know about when it hurts to go.

Urinary Tract Infection (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

Symptoms in elderly patients may present as weakness, recurrent falls, and mental confusion.

UTI Causes

Despite popular opinion, tight clothing, and diet do not cause UTIs. Anatomy does play a role, though.

“The distance between the urethra and the rectum is short, so it’s a quick, easy transmission.”

Hanadi Farrukh, MD

According to Farrukh, “A UTI usually is an infection that comes from the bacteria around the vagina and rectum. The distance between the urethra and the rectum is short, so it’s a quick easy transmission." Sexual intercourse, some birth control methods such as diaphragm and spermicidal use, diabetes, obesity, incomplete emptying of the bladder, vaginal dryness related to menopause, inappropriate wiping, and diarrhea can lead to UTI in women.

How long does a UTI last?

Most infections can be cured with three to five days of antibiotics, but some simple UTIs can become complicated and present real health concerns. Certain conditions such as kidney stones, diabetes, and pregnancy can increase your chances of a complicated UTI. 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.

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 a UTI, so it's important to talk to your doctor about antibiotic treatment.

Home Remedies

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 not clear whether cranberry helps. "I tell my patients thats if they want to use it, it's fine. But I'm not confident that it can prevent or cure UTI,” she says.


Hydrating and emptying the bladder are the most important preventions. Women should also wipe front to back and urinate after intercourse. For women who have recurrent UTIs, they can 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.”

Can Men Get UTIs?

Holding urine for too long can cause a UTI for both women and men. An enlarged prostate can prevent some men from emptying their bladder fully, which increases the chance of a UTI or 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 also at increased risk of infection.

wellness gynecology UTI urinary tract infection primary care

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