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Definition

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of the urinary system including:

  • Upper tract:
    • Kidneys
    • Ureter—tubes from kidneys to bladder
  • Lower tract:
    • Bladder
    • Urethra—tubes from bladder that lets urine pass out of the body

The infection can cause swelling in the tract and make it painful to pass urine. The infection may be named for the specific area of the urinary tract that it effects:

The Urinary Tract

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Causes  ^

UTIs are caused by bacteria. The bacteria cling to the opening of the urethra and begin to grow. The infection can then move up and spread into the tract. If the infection is not treated is can lead to a severe kidney infection.

Most UTIs are caused by a bacteria that normally live in the colon or vagina. The bacteria are able to pass or are moved to the opening of the urethra.

Risk Factors  ^

UTIs are more common in women.

Other factors that may increase your chance of a UTI include:

  • Being sexually active
  • Use of spermicide
  • New sexual partner
  • History of UTIs in sister, mother, or daughter

Some conditions may increase the chance of a UTI:

Symptoms  ^

Some may not have any symptoms. Those that do have symptoms may have:

  • Urgent need to urinate
  • Small amounts of urine during urination
  • Pain in the abdomen or pelvic area
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Cloudy, bad-smelling urine
  • Increased need to get up at night to urinate
  • Leaking of urine
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea and low desire to eat

An infection in the kidney can be more serious. Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms of a kidney infection, such as:

  • Bloody urine
  • Low back pain or pain along the side of the ribs
  • High fever and chills

Diagnosis  ^

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. A sample of your urine will be studied for blood and pus. Sometimes the urine will be tested to look for the exact type of bacteria.

A CT scan may be needed for more severe or recurrent infections. The scan may help to see problems or blockages in the urinary tract.

Treatment  ^

UTIs are treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are most often taken over 3 days. You will probably start to feel better after 1-2 days. It is important to take all of the medicine, even if you feel better. A hospital stay may be needed with a severe infection. This will allow the antibiotics to be delivered through IV.

The infection may cause pain and spasms in the bladder. Your doctor may recommend medicine to help manage pain until it passes.

UTIs can be passed between sexual partners. Ask if your partner should consider getting treatment as well.

Prevention  ^

To help decrease the risk of a UTI:

  • Empty your bladder completely and drink a full glass of water after having sex.
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.

If the UTI is due to a problem with the urinary tract it may need to be fixed. The repair may help prevent future infections.

RESOURCES:

National Kidney Foundation
https://www.kidney.org

Urology Care Foundation
http://www.urologyhealth.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Urological Association
http://www.cua.org

Women's Health Matters
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

REFERENCES:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 91: Treatment of urinary tract infections in nonpregnant women. Obstet Gynecol. 2008;111(3):785-794. Reaffirmed 2016.

Bladder infection (urinary tract infection—UTI) in adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-infection-uti-in-adults. Accessed September 7, 2017.

Jepson RG, Craig JC. Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(1):CD001321.

Pohl A. Modes of administration of antibiotics for symptomatic severe urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database of Syst Rev. 2007;(4):CD003237.

Uncomplicated urinary tract infection (UTI) (pyelonephritis and cystitis). DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116894/Uncomplicated-urinary-tract-infection-UTI-pyelonephritis-and-cystitis. Updated March 15, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2017.

Urinary tract infection (UTI) in men. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T904748/Urinary-tract-infection-UTI-in-men. Updated January 26, 2017. Accessed September 7, 2017.

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI) in adults? Urology Care Foundation website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=47. Accessed September 1, 2015.

Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD  Last Updated: 2/21/2018