Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Young men's version of this guide

iStock_000032157758CroppedUrinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common type of infection caused by bacteria (germs). Children, teens, women, and men can get UTIs.

What is the urinary tract?

The urinary tract is the path for urine to go from your kidneys to the outside of your body. Urine is made in the kidneys and then travels through hollow tubes called “ureters” to your bladder, where the urine is stored. When your bladder is full, you’ll feel an urge to urinate (pee). The urine will leave your body through an opening called the “urethra”.

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

Urine is usually free of bacteria. A urinary tract infection happens when bacteria gets inside your bladder, usually through your urethra (the opening where your urine comes out). Females have shorter urethras than males do, so it is easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract and cause symptoms. The most common kind of UTI is a bladder infection, which is called cystitis (sis-ti-tis). If the infection affects your urethra, it is called urethritis (ur-e-thri-tis). If your kidneys become infected, it is called pyelonephritis (pie-low-ne-fright-is).

Who is most likely to get a UTI?

UTIs are not contagious (you can’t catch it from anyone else). You are more likely to get a UTI if you have kidney or bladder problems.

UTIs are most common in young women who:

What are the most common symptoms of a UTI?

  • Pain or burning while urinating (especially at the end of urinating)
  • Feeling the need to pass urine frequently
  • Urinating very little even though you feel like your bladder is full
  • Urine is cloudy and/or foul smelling
  • Blood in your urine
  • Fever, chills
  • Pain in your lower back below your ribs

What should I do if I think I have a UTI?

If you think that you have a UTI, you should call or make an appointment with your health care provider. If you wait to get treatment, your symptoms may get worse. Sometimes, the bacteria can cause a kidney infection, which can be a very serious problem.

Since some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause symptoms similar to a UTI, it’s important to let your health care provider know if you’re having sexual intercourse.

How is a UTI diagnosed?

A UTI is usually diagnosed by a urine test that checks for bacteria. Your health care provider will ask you to pee into a cup. Your urine sample may be tested first with a “dipstick test” (a strip of paper that has been treated with a certain chemical that checks for white blood cells as well as protein and glucose). The result of the dipstick test is available right away. It’s likely that your urine sample will also be sent to the lab for further testing. It usually takes about 1-3 days to get the results of the urine culture back. If you’re sexually active, or your health care provider is concerned that your symptoms are from another cause, such as chlamydia, herpes or another sexually transmitted infection (STI), he or she will check you for STIs.

How is a UTI treated?

Certain antibiotics kill the bacteria that cause UTIs. Your health care provider will prescribe the antibiotic that is right for your infection and tell you how many days you will need to take the antibiotic (usually 3-5 days).

Do I need to finish the medicine if I feel better right away?

Yes! It’s very important to follow your health care provider’s instructions. That means taking all of the antibiotic medicine that was prescribed for you, even if your symptoms go away after a few days. If you don’t take all of your medication, your infection may come back, and you’ll be uncomfortable all over again.

Do I need any other medicine?

If your symptoms are severe, your health care provider may also prescribe medicine that will help with other discomforts such as bladder spasms (cramping pain that comes and goes in the lower part of your abdomen). Certain bladder spasm medicines may turn your urine an orange color. This is a normal side effect and only lasts as long as you are taking the medicine. Although this medicine will help you feel better, it’s the antibiotics that are actually killing the bacteria. If you don’t feel much better after taking your medicine, you should call your health care provider. You may need a different antibiotic or something else may be causing your symptoms.

Will I be more likely to get another UTI because I’ve had one?

People who get a UTI are more likely to get them again. If you felt better after taking your medicine but your symptoms returned soon after treatment, it might mean that you have a “recurrent infection”. This means that you still have the infection because the first round of medicine didn’t completely kill the bacteria. Be sure to call your health care provider if your symptoms return.

How can I prevent UTIs that keep coming back?

  • Drinking a lot of water (8-10 large glasses/day) and going to the bathroom often may help keep your bladder empty, active, and bacteria-free.
  • According to the NIH (National Institute of Health), drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry extracts can lower the risk of repeated UTIs in some people, but there is no evidence that supports that cranberry juice can treat or cure a UTI.
  • Your health care provider may suggest that you take antibiotics every day, just after intercourse or as soon as you get symptoms.
UTIs are very common and easily treated. If you think you have a UTI, contact your health care provider, get treatment early, and remember to finish all of your medicine.