9 Things to Know About Urinary Tract Infections

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Diana Rodriguez on September 4, 2020
  • Doctor and patient using digital tablet in office
    The Basics of Urinary Tract Infections
    Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common. They occur when bacteria get into your urinary tract. The bacteria can affect any part of it, including your bladder and kidneys. Symptoms are uncomfortable, like burning when you urinate. But, UTIs tend to be simple infections, but that doesn't mean you can ignore them or skip getting treatment. Here's what you need to know about UTIs, from the first signs of one to how to prevent them.
  • Young Couple
    1. Women are at greater risk than men.
    Men can get urinary tract infections, but they're much more common in women. The urethra is the small tube that urine goes through as it leaves the bladder. This tube is shorter in women than in men. That makes it easier for bacteria to get into the bladder. A woman's urethra is also very close to the vagina and the anus. Both of those have bacteria that can cause a UTI. More than half of all women will get a UTI at some point in their lives.
  • Public restroom
    2. Bathroom habits play a role.
    Certain habits can make getting a UTI more likely. For instance, holding in urine and not voiding when you have the need to can cause a UTI. That’s because waiting too long to urinate allows more bacteria to form in the bladder. Another mistake is wiping from back to front after a bowel movement. Wiping in this direction can spread bacteria from the anus to the urinary tract. That makes an infection more likely.
  • Man and woman in bed
    3. Sex can lead to a UTI.
    Sexual intercourse can add bacteria to your urinary tract. This can increase your risk of infection. After sex, always drink plenty of water and urinate. This helps clean out your bladder and gets rid of the bacteria. Also, using a diaphragm for birth control can be a UTI risk. That's because it can interfere with the flow of urine. So, remove it in a timely fashion. Another risk: condoms with a spermicide. They can irritate the vaginal area and set the stage for more bacterial growth.
  • nurse-explaining-diabetes-injectable
    4. Some medical conditions can increase risk.
    People with a health condition that affects the immune system are more likely than others to get UTIs. Diabetes is an example. With these conditions, your body is less able to defend itself against bacteria. Also, any health problem that makes it hard to completely empty your bladder also increases the risk of getting a UTI. Having kidney stones is an example. Lower estrogen levels can contribute to more UTIs, too. This can occur because of menopause.
  • woman in public bathroom
    5. Painful, frequent urination may mean a UTI.
    Some UTI symptoms are mild. Others are impossible to ignore. UTIs usually cause pain or a burning sensation when you urinate. You also feel a constant need to urinate. But when you go, you may pass only very small amounts. Your urine may look cloudy or have a pink, red or brown tinge. It may have a very strong smell, too. Some women also experience pelvic pain with a UTI. Talk with your doctor if you notice these signs and symptoms.
  • Woman complaining to doctor about pain
    6. Your kidneys can suffer without treatment.
    A UTI can be uncomfortable and even annoying. Without treatment, your problems can get much more serious. UTIs can scar and damage your kidneys if the infection spreads or lasts too long. This can lead to high blood pressure. It can also cause your kidneys to not work properly. Some UTIs that strike very quickly and very severely can cause a life-threatening infection.
  • pregnancy complications
    7. Watch for UTIs during pregnancy.
    Pregnant women are more likely to get a UTI than women who aren't pregnant. Experts think this is probably because pregnancy moves the urinary tract just enough to make it easier for bacteria to get in. UTIs in pregnancy are more likely to spread to the kidneys and cause infection there. Pregnant women usually have screening at their checkups for bacteria in the urine.
  • pharmacist talking to patient
    8. You need an antibiotic to treat a UTI.
    If you think you might have a UTI, see your doctor. To fight the bacteria, you'll need treatment with antibiotics. Some women who have UTIs very often may need to take a low dose of antibiotic every day. The aim is to keep the infections from coming back. Your doctor can also give you a medicine that numbs your urethra. This can make urinating less painful while the antibiotics work to clear the infection.
  • Portrait of woman wrapped in towel after a shower
    9. You can help prevent UTIs.
    Wash your genital area daily, but don't douche or use bubble bath products or so-called feminine hygiene powders or sprays. These might irritate your urethra, increasing the risk of a bacterial infection. Wear cotton underwear—it allows delicate skin to breathe. Avoid pants with a snug fit—tight pants can trap moisture that can lead to the growth of bacteria in and around your urethra. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, every day. This helps to naturally flush away bacteria in your urinary tract.
9 Things to Know About Urinary Tract Infections

About The Author

  1. Urinary Tract Infection Fact Sheet. Office on Women's Health. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/urinary-tract-infection.html
  2. Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/basics/definition/con-20037892
  3. Urinary Tract Infection in Adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/urologic-disease/urinary-tract-infections-...
  4. Urinary Tract Infection -- Adults. U.S. National Library of Medicine. ttps://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000521.htm
  5. Urinary Tract Infection. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infections.html
  6. Urinary Tract Infections. National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/uti

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 4
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.