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What is a urinary tract infection?
Your urinary tract is the system that makes urine and carries it out of your body. It includes your bladder and kidneys and the tubes that connect them. When germs get into this system, they can cause an infection.
Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are bladder infections. A bladder infection usually is not serious if it is treated right away. If you do not take care of a bladder infection, it can spread to your kidneys. A kidney infection is serious and can cause permanent damage.
What causes urinary tract infections?
Usually, germs get into your system through your urethra, the tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside of your body. The germs that usually cause these infections live in your large intestine and are found in your stool. If these germs get inside your urethra, they can travel up into your bladder and kidneys and cause an infection.
Women tend to get more bladder infections than men. This is probably because women have shorter urethras, so it is easier for the germs to move up to their bladders. Having sex can make it easier for germs to get into a woman's urethra.
You may be more likely to get an infection if you have diabetes or you are pregnant. The chance that you will get a bladder infection is higher if you have any problem that blocks the flow of urine from your bladder. Examples include having kidney stones or an enlarged prostate gland.
For reasons that are not well understood, some women get bladder infections again and again.
What are the symptoms?
You may have an infection if you have any of these symptoms:
- You feel pain or burning when you urinate.
- You feel like you have to urinate often, but not much urine comes out when you do.
- You have pain in your lower belly.
- Your urine is cloudy, looks pink or red, or smells bad.
- You have pain on one side of your back under your ribs. This is where your kidneys are.
- You have fever and chills.
- You have nausea and vomiting.
Call your doctor right away if you think you have an infection and:
How are urinary tract infections diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask for a sample of your urine. It is tested to see if it has germs that cause bladder infections.
If you have infections often, you may need extra testing to find out why.
How are they treated?
Antibiotics prescribed by your doctor will usually cure a bladder infection. It may help to drink lots of water and other fluids and to urinate often, emptying your bladder each time.
For urinary symptoms such as pain or burning, there is a medicine you can buy without a prescription. Phenazopyridine (such as Azo-Gesic, Azo-Standard, and Uristat) can relieve these symptoms. But phenazopyridine doesn't treat the infection, so you'll still need an antibiotic.
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take the pills exactly as you are told. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to finish taking them all so that you do not get sick again.
Can urinary tract infections be prevented?
You may be able to help prevent these infections.
- Take time to empty your bladder as much as possible when you urinate.
- If you are a sexually active woman, make it a point to urinate shortly after having sex.
- If you are a woman past menopause who is having repeated UTIs, using vaginal estrogen may help.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about urinary tract infections:
Living with infections that keep coming back: