When to See a Doctor for a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Urinary tract infections, also called UTIs, are the second most common type of infection. UTI symptoms include sudden and frequent urge to urinate, pain or discomfort with urination, and cloudy urine. A fever may or may not accompany a urinary tract infection.
Anyone can develop a UTI, though they are more common in women, people who use a catheter to urinate, and people with weakened immune systems. Some mild urinary tract infections may go away on their own, but most require antibiotic treatment prescribed by a doctor.
A urinary tract infection or bladder infection occurs when bacteria enter the urinary system. (Normally, urine is sterile and does not contain any bacteria.) Bacteria typically enter via the urethra (the tube that drains urine from the body) and multiply in the bladder.
Factors that contribute to the development of UTI include:
Sex: Women’s urethras are shorter than men’s, so it’s easier for bacteria to migrate up to the bladder.
Age: Post-menopausal women face an additional risk of UTIs because decreased estrogen levels cause changes in the urinary track that increase susceptibility to infection.
Urinary tract abnormalities: Some people are born with unusually shaped urinary tracts that cause urine retention and increased the risk of infection.
Suppressed immune system: Cancer treatments (such as chemotherapy) that decrease the immune response can increase the risk of UTI. Diabetes also suppresses the immune system and is associated with increased risk of UTI.
Catheter use: Some people who are hospitalized, paralyzed or have certain neurological diseases use a flexible tube to empty the bladder. However, contaminating microorganisms can also enter the bladder via the tube and cause a UTI.
The discomfort of a urinary tract infection can make it difficult to function in daily life. At-home care can help you relieve UTI symptoms such as pain and burning upon urination. Try these self-care measures:
Drink lots of water. Water will dilute your urine and help flush the bacteria out of your body.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Soda, coffee, caffeinated tea, and alcohol all irritate the bladder. Stick to water, herbal teas, and non-citrus juices. There’s some evidence cranberry juice contains infection-fighting properties, but there’s no proof it helps “cure” or prevent UTIs.
Urinate often. Doing so may help you eliminate the bacteria from your body.
- Apply a heating pad. Some people find a heating pad on the lower abdomen soothing. You can also try relaxing in a hot bath.
Use over-the-counter pain medication. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can both provide some relief from the discomfort of a bladder infection. Phenazopyridine (Pyridium, AZO Urinary Pain Relief) is an over-the-counter medication specifically designed to relieve UTI symptoms.
Sometimes a mild UTI will go away without medical treatment. The use of antibiotics, though, can decrease the length and severity of infection, and help prevent the development of complications. Most healthcare providers recommend contacting your doctor as soon as you notice bladder infection symptoms or urinary tract infection symptoms.
You should also see your healthcare provider if you get frequent UTIs. If you have three or more urinary tract infections in 12 months, call your doctor.
Your primary care provider—usually a family doctor, nurse practitioner, or internal medicine physician—can diagnose and treat urinary tract infections. However, if you have frequent UTIs, your healthcare provider may refer you to a urologist, a physician who specializes in the urinary system, or a urogynecologist, a physician who specializes in treating women urinary and reproductive systems. If your UTIs commonly turn into kidney infections, you may also see a nephrologist, or kidney doctor.
The sooner you notice the symptoms of a urinary tract infection and begin treatment, the sooner you’ll feel better. When in doubt, consult your healthcare provider.