A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system, which includes your kidneys, uterus, bladder, and urethra. Most commonly infections involve the bladder and the urethra. Women are at greater risk of contracting a UTI than men. About 1 in 2 women will develop a UTI in their lifetime, whereas only about 1 in 10 will get a UTI.
The urinary system is how the body makes and stores urine. Urine is created in the kidneys (a pair of organs in your back that filter impurities from the blood) and moves down the uterus into the bladder. The bladder stores the urine until it is emptied via urination through the urethra. A man’s urethra opening is at the end of the penis and above the vaginal opening in a female. Normal urine has no bacteria in it. Its one-way flow out of the body helps prevent infections; however, bacteria can still get into the urine, causing a UTI.
UTIs usually occur when bacteria enter the body through the urethra and travel up the bladder, where they multiply. The bacteria typically come from the skin or the anus. The urinary system is designed to prevent this from happening, yet sometimes the system fails, and a UTI occurs. UTIs are so much more common in females because many bacteria dwell around the vagina and rectum. The urethra is close in proximity, and the women’s urethra is much shorter than males makes it easier for bacteria to get to the bladder.
Risk factors for contracting a UTI include:
Previously having a UTI
Menopause causes a decrease in estrogen, which can cause changes in the urinary tract, increasing your risk for a UTI
Birth control methods such as a diaphragm and spermicide
Urinary tract abnormalities
Urinary blockages from kidney stones or enlarged prostate
Immunocompromised people such as diabetics
Recent catheter use or having had a urinary medical procedure
A urinary tract infection can affect various parts of the urinary system. Symptoms vary depending on which part of the system is infected. Below we will layout each type of UTI and the common signs and symptoms.
Burning with urination
Pelvic pain/pressure or cramping
Lower abdomen pain/discomfort
Feeling the urge to urinate even with an empty bladder
Blood in urine
If you are worried you may have a UTI, you should call your doctor to make an appointment. This can also be taken care of with an online doctor via virtual visit. You may need to give a urine sample to be tested for bacteria or red or white blood cells. The lab may analyze the urine sample by doing a urine culture to learn which type of bacteria is causing your infection. If you have frequent UTIs and your doctor thinks it could be due to an abnormality in your urinary tract, they may order an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI to visualize the structures of your urinary tract. If you have multiple recurrent UTIs your doctor may need to perform a cystoscopy to see inside your urethra and bladder.
There are two types of UTIs, simple and complicated. Simple UTIs are infections that happen in otherwise healthy people with normal urinary tracts. Complicated UTIs occur in people with abnormal urinary tracts or when the bacteria causing the infection are resistant to many antibiotics. If you are found to have a UTI, the most common form of treatment is with antibiotics. The antibiotic your doctor prescribes depends on your health and the type of bacteria found in your urine.
Common antibiotics ordered to treat simple UTIs are:
trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra, others)
Nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid)
It is critical that you take the full course of antibiotics even if symptoms start to go away. Taking your meds and drinking plenty of water should have your UTI cleared up in no time.
Typically for a complicated UTI, a longer course of antibiotics is given, and sometimes antibiotics may need to be given intravenously (IV) in the hospital.
If you have frequent, recurrent UTIs, your doctor may customize a treatment plan for you that could include:
A low dose of antibiotics over a more extended period
Taking a single dose of an antibiotic after sexual intercourse (if your infections are related to your sexual activity)
Having an antibiotic on hand to take for 1-2 days every time UTI symptoms appear.
Sticking to the recommendations from your doctor, your UTI should go away quickly. Take your antibiotics exactly as prescribed and for as long as prescribed. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to take as needed to help reduce the pain and discomfort of your UTI. Drink plenty of water and avoid drinks that may irritate your bladder, such as coffee, alcohol, and soft drinks. A heating pad may also help to minimize bladder discomfort.
Some common side effects of antibiotics used to treat UTIs include:
It is important to call your doctor if you develop any side effects while taking your antibiotic, as there could be another treatment option that could work better for you.
You can receive treatment for a UTI by calling your doctor or there are many online doctors that are able to diagnose and treat you by the use of telemedicine. We have created our list of top online doctors who provide this service.
There are also a few at-home-test-kit companies that have gained popularity in the last few years and have become especially convenient during the time of COVID. There is no need for uncomfortable interactions with a doctor or lab tech. These companies specialize in sending lab-quality tests directly and discreetly to your front door, where you can take the test in the privacy and comfort of your own home. We have pre-vetted and reviewed the following at-home-test-kit companies:
There are many ways you can prevent UTIs:
Drink plenty of fluids
Cranberry juice or cranberry tablets could prevent UTIs
Wipe from front to back after urinating or bowel movements. This helps prevent the spread of bacteria into the urethra.
Empty your bladder as soon as you have the urge to urinate, do not hold your urine, and make sure you completely empty your bladder.
Urinate after sexual intercourse. This will flush out any bacteria that may have entered your urethra during intercourse.
Avoid certain methods of birth control that could increase your risk of a UTI (spermicide and diaphragms)
Getting a UTI is uncomfortable and inconvenient. With the hustle and bustle of daily life, it is hard to get to the doctor to get the treatment you need. With the use of telemedicine, getting treatment for many common health issues is made easy. We have compiled our top list of online doctors who can diagnose and treat a urinary tract infection.