Skip to content

    Women's Health

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    UTIs: A Common Woe

    A Painful Problem

    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Craig H. Kliger, MD

    Nov. 13, 2000 -- Even though it happened more than 10 years ago, Mary Sander still vividly remembers her first urinary tract infection (UTI), when an unimaginable pain wracked her abdomen. "The pain was so bad I thought I was going to die," says Sander, now a 32-year-old clothing designer in Reno, Nev. Medications soon brought comfort. But the agony -- more intense than childbirth, says the mother of four -- remains fresh in her mind.

    For Sander, and an increasing number of women in the country, that first infection is just the beginning. Experts from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimate that UTIs recur in about 20% of all sufferers. And the problem is widespread: Such infections affect 8 to 10 million Americans a year, mostly women, according to the American Foundation for Urological Diseases.

    Recommended Related to Women

    "I Hate Asking for Help"

    By Cynthia HansonIt's the four-letter word no woman likes to utter. How to ask for what you need. It wasn’t until Kathleen Hornstein realized that she couldn’t move her legs that she finally broke down and asked for help. A 34-year-old Pilates instructor and mom of two, Hornstein was pregnant with twins, and despite being overextended and overtired, she had barely slowed down and prided herself on being able to handle anything that came her way. Then, during her second trimester, as she sat...

    Read the "I Hate Asking for Help" article > >

    Since infections tend to recur, many women may need multiple rounds of antibiotics to treat them, says Frank Tally, MD, an infectious disease specialist in Boston. And when women take one antibiotic after another, they may be left with bacteria naturally resistant to all the drugs, he says. However, with the proper precautions, women can help prevent UTIs from occurring in the first place.

    Bladder, Kidney, and Pain

    What causes a UTI? Doctors point to the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) or Staphylococcus saprophyticus (staph) as the usual suspects. They make their way into the urinary tract, typically through the narrow tube that directs urine out of the body (called the urethra), often encouraged by compressions that tend to occur during sexual intercourse.

    The bacteria usually land in the bladder, causing cystitis, the most common type of UTI. This results in pain in and around the pelvis and lower back, as well as a burning sensation when urine -- which could be cloudy, bloody, or foul-smelling -- is passed. Sufferers also tend to have the urge to urinate frequently and usually get up more than once during the night to do so.

    If the bacteria migrate higher in the body, from the bladder into the kidneys (through connecting tubes called ureters), women may develop a UTI called pyelonephritis. This causes pain in the middle of the back and often fever and chills.

    Today on WebMD

    hands on abdomen
    Test your knowledge.
    womans hand on abdomen
    Are you ready for baby?
     
    birth control pills
    Learn about your options.
    insomnia
    Is it menopause or something else?
     
    woman in bathtub
    Slideshow
    period
    VIDEO
     
    bp app on smartwatch and phone
    Slideshow
    estrogen gene
    Quiz
     

    Send yourself a link to download the app.

    Loading ...

    Please wait...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Blood pressure check
    Slideshow
    hot water bottle on stomach
    Quiz
     
    question
    Assessment
    Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror
    Quiz