How Can You Tell if You Have a UTI?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that affects any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. UTIs are common, especially among women ... But how can you tell if you have a UTI?
In this article, we will explain the signs and symptoms of urinary tract infection, how to prevent and treat UTIs and when to see a primary care provider.
The most common sign of a UTI is a frequent and urgent need to urinate. You may feel like you must go to the bathroom again, immediately after you empty your bladder. You might only urinate a little at a time and feel like your bladder is not completely empty.
Another common symptom of a UTI is pain or burning when you urinate. This can range from mild discomfort to severe pain, depending on the severity of the infection and type of UTI. You may also notice dark, bloody or cloudy urine, or that it has a strong or foul smell.
Some other symptoms of a UTI may include:
Pelvic pain, pressure or cramping in women
Lower back pain or side pain
Fever, chills, nausea or vomiting
Fatigue or malaise
In some cases, UTIs can also lead to serious complications if left untreated. These symptoms may indicate that the UTI has infected other parts of the urinary tract, becoming a kidney infection or bladder infection. This is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
UTIs are usually caused by bacteria that enter the urinary tract through the urethra. The most common type of bacteria that causes UTIs is Escherichia coli (E. coli), which normally lives in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. However, other types of bacteria can also cause UTIs, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Some factors that create a higher risk of UTIs include:
Being female: Women have a shorter urethra than men, which makes it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder.
Having sex: Sexual activity can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract, especially if you use certain birth control methods, such as diaphragms or spermicides.
Abnormalities in the urinary tract: Some people have structural problems in their urinary tract that make it harder for urine to flow normally or prevent them from emptying the bladder.
Certain medical conditions: Some conditions that affect the immune system, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke or spinal cord injury, can make it harder for the body to fight off infections.
Pregnancy: Hormonal changes and pressure from the growing uterus can affect the urinary tract and increase the risk of UTIs.
Menopause: Decreased estrogen levels during menopause can affect the lining of the urethra and make it more prone to infections.
Catheters: People who use catheters to drain urine from their bladder may have a higher risk of UTIs due to bacteria on the catheter or in the urine bag.
Kidney stones: Kidney stones can block the flow of urine and create a breeding ground for bacteria.
The best way to prevent UTI is to keep your urinary tract healthy and clean. Some tips to prevent a UTI include:
- Drink plenty of water: Water helps flush out bacteria from your urinary tract and dilute your urine. You may have heard that cranberry juice can fight UTIs, but this is unproven. However, unsweetened juice is a healthy option for getting vitamin C and other nutrients. It can be particularly beneficial for those who don’t like to drink water.
- Urinate when you feel the urge: Holding in urine can allow bacteria to multiply in your bladder.
- Wipe from front to back: This prevents bacteria from being transferred to your urethra.
- Clean up before and after sex: This reduces the chance of introducing bacteria into your urinary tract.
- Urinate after sex: This helps wash away any bacteria that may have entered your urethra during sex.
- Avoid feminine hygiene products: Products such as sprays, douches or powders can irritate your urethra and disrupt its natural balance.
- Switch up your birth control: If you use diaphragms or spermicides, consider switching to another method that does not increase your risk of UTIs.
- Wear cotton underwear: Cotton allows air circulation and prevents moisture buildup that can promote bacterial growth.
If you think you have a UTI, see your primary care physician as soon as possible. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history and may perform some tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:
Urine analysis: This test checks for the presence of white blood cells, red blood cells or bacteria in your urine.
Urine culture: This test identifies the type of bacteria that is causing the infection and helps determine the best antibiotic to treat UTIs.
Imaging tests: These tests, such as ultrasound, CT scan or MRI, can show if there are any abnormalities in your urinary tract that may be causing or contributing to the infection.
Cystoscopy: This test involves inserting a thin tube with a camera into your urethra and bladder to look for any problems or signs of infection.
The main treatment for UTIs is antibiotics. Most UTIs can be cured with antibiotics within a few days or weeks. The type, dose and duration of antibiotics depend on the severity of the infection and the type of bacteria involved. It is important to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your provider, even if you feel better before finishing them. Stopping antibiotics too soon can lead to a recurrence or a resistant infection.
Your physician may also prescribe a pain reliever to ease the burning or discomfort when you urinate. You should also drink plenty of fluids and avoid caffeine, alcohol or spicy foods that can irritate your bladder.
If you have symptoms of a UTI, make an appointment with your primary care doctor as soon as possible, schedule a virtual visit with a BJC provider today or visit your nearest BJC Medical Group Convenient Care clinic for in-person treatment. UTIs are usually easy to treat and cure with prescription antibiotics. However, some people may have recurrent or chronic UTIs that require longer or more frequent treatment.
For recurrent UTIs, a primary care provider may recommend preventive measures, such as taking low-dose antibiotics regularly or after sex, using vaginal estrogen cream if you are menopausal, or surgery to correct any urinary tract abnormalities.
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