What is a urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is when germs get inside your urinary tract. Your urinary tract includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Urine is made in your kidneys, and flows from the ureters to the bladder. Urine exits your body from your bladder through your urethra. A UTI is more common in your lower urinary tract, which includes your bladder and urethra. A UTI that travels up into your kidneys is called pyelonephritis. Ask your caregiver for more information about pyelonephritis.

What causes a urinary tract infection?

A UTI is caused by bacteria (germs) that enters your urethra and travel up to your bladder. The bacteria that commonly causes a UTI is Escherichia coli (E coli). Most bacteria that enters your urinary tract are washed out when you urinate. If the bacteria stay in your urinary tract, you may get an infection. The following may increase your risk of getting a UTI:

Abnormal urinary tract: If the organs in your urinary tract are not normal, your UTI risk increases. Having surgery on your urinary tract, or not being able to control your urine increases your risk.Vesicoureteral reflux (VUR) causes your urine to flow backward from your bladder to your ureters and kidneys. Reflux can increase the risk of a UTI, and may cause kidney damage. Neurogenic bladder is when your bladder does not work normally because of nervous system problems. Your nervous system includes your brain, spinal cord, and nerves. If you have neurogenic bladder, you will have problems emptying your bladder. Your UTI risk also increases if you have had a UTI in the past.

Blockages: A blockage in your urinary tract stops your urine from flowing freely. When urine stays in your urinary tract, germs cannot be washed out, and may cause a UTI. Causes of a blockage include kidney and bladder stones. Ask your caregiver for more information about what can cause a blockage in your urinary tract.

Not being circumcised: Circumcision is a procedure that removes the foreskin from the tip of your penis. Having a foreskin may make it easier for germs to get trapped, and enter your urinary tract.

Prostate problems: Having a large prostate gland (male sex gland), or an infected prostate (prostatitis) increases your UTI risk.

Sexual intercourse: If your sex partner has an infection, you are more likely to get an infection. Anal sex also increases your UTI risk. In females using a diaphragm or spermicide (types of birth control) also increases your risk.

Pregnancy: When you are pregnant, changes in your body may increase your risk for a UTI. Your UTI risk also increases with each pregnancy.

Menopause: After menopause in females, body changes and decreased hormone (body chemical) levels may increase your UTI risk. Menopause is when you no longer have a monthly period

Weak immune system: Your immune system is your body's defense against infection and disease. When your immune system is weak, it may not be able to fight against the germs that can cause a UTI. Your immune system becomes weak when you have a long-term illness. This includes illnesses such as HIV or diabetes (increased sugar in your blood).

Health problems: Health problems, such as diabetes (high blood sugar) and sickle cell disease may increase your risk for a UTI. Obesity (weighing more than caregivers suggest) may also increase your risk. Ask your caregiver for more information about health problems that can increase your UTI risk.

What are the signs and symptoms of a urinary tract infection?

You may have any of the following:

  • Urinating more than is normal for you. You may wake often from sleep to urinate. You may also feel the need to urinate right away.
  • Pain and burning when you urinate.
  • Pain or pressure in your lower abdomen (stomach).
  • Bad smelling urine.
  • Blood in your urine.
  • Leaking urine.
  • Fever (high body temperature).

How is a urinary tract infection diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your signs and symptoms. He may press on your stomach, sides, and back to check if you feel pain. You may also need the following:

Urine tests: A sample of your urine is collected and sent to a lab for tests. Testing may be done on your urine to learn what germ is causing your infection. You may be able to give a urine sample by urinating into a cup. Your caregiver may insert a catheter (tube) into your urethra and bladder to get a sample of your urine. Your caregiver may also insert a needle through your abdomen and into your bladder to get a urine sample.

Blood tests: You may need blood taken for tests. The blood can be taken from a blood vessel in your hand, arm, or the bend in your elbow. It is tested to see how your body is doing, and if you have a prostate infection.

Imagining tests: You may need imaging tests if your UTI is not getting better, or you have a repeat UTI. Imaging tests are pictures of your urinary tract that may show if your infection is in your kidneys. Imaging tests may also show if you have damage, blockages, or other problems in your urinary tract. You may be given dye before certain imaging tests. The dye is used to help your caregiver see the pictures better. People who are allergic to shellfish (lobster, crab or shrimp) may be allergic to some dyes. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to shellfish, or have other allergies.

How is a urinary tract infection treated?

Treatment for your UTI depends on how serious (bad) your infection and symptoms are. With treatment, your symptoms, such as pain and urinating often, may go away. Treatment may also prevent the infection from moving into your kidneys, and causing a serious health problem. Treatment may include the following:


Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be given to help kill the germs causing your infection.

Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to decrease pain caused by your UTI. Medicine may also decrease the burning feeling when you urinate.

Rest: Your caregiver may suggest you rest as much as you can to help your body fight your infection.

What are the risks of a urinary tract infection?

You may have an allergy to the medicines used to treat your UTI. Medicines may cause nausea (upset stomach), vomiting (throwing up), or diarrhea (loose BMs). If you take antibiotics for a long time, germs in your body can become resistant. Germs that are resistant to antibiotics are very hard to kill. Even after taking medicine to treat your UTI, your infection may come back.

Without treatment for your UTI, your infection and symptoms may get worse. The germs may travel to your kidneys, causing pyelonephritis. This can be a very serious condition, and you may need treatment in the hospital. The infection can spread to your blood, which can be life-threatening. Talk to your caregiver if you have questions or concerns about your infection, treatment, or care.

How can I prevent getting a urinary tract infection?

Avoid sex if your partner has an infection.

Do not hold your urine. Urinate as soon as you feel you have to.

Drink more liquids each day to help wash out your urinary tract. Men age 19 years and older should drink about 3 liters of liquid each day (close to 13 eight-ounce cups). Good choices for most people to drink include water, juice, and milk. Your caregiver may suggest you drink cranberry juice. The high fruit acid levels in cranberry juice may help prevent another UTI. You may also be able to take cranberry pills if you cannot drink the juice. Ask your caregiver how much liquid you should drink each day.

When should I call my caregiver? Call your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever (increased body temperature).
  • You have blood in your urine.
  • You have new, or worse pain or burning when you urinate.
  • You leak urine, or have to urinate more often than normal.
  • Your urine looks cloudy, or has a bad smell.

When should I seek immediate help?

You are urinating very small amounts, or not at all, You begin vomiting, You feel confused , You have shaking chills with a fever, You have side or back pain that is getting worse,You are breathing faster than is normal for you, Your heart is beating faster than is normal for you.