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Urinary Tract Infections

Painful urinary tract infections (UTIs) may form when bacteria enter your urinary system. UTIs are common.

More than half of all women will get a UTI. Men can get them too, but they're not as common in men as in women.

Contact the UPMC Urology Department to make an appointment.

What Is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?

UTIs occur in your urinary system or tract.

The urinary tract is a group of organs that produce and remove urine or pee from your body.

It includes your:

  • Bladder. A hollow muscular organ that holds urine.
  • Kidneys. Two waste-filtering organs that make pee.
  • Ureters. Two thin tubes that carry pee from your kidneys to your bladder.
  • Urethra. A tube through which pee leaves your body.

What Are the Types of Urinary Tract Infections?

You can get a UTI in any part of your urinary tract. UTIs have different names based on where the infection occurs.

Types of UTIs include:

  • Cystitis (bladder infection). Inflammation of the bladder is the most common organ for a UTI, especially in women.
  • Pyelonephritis (kidney infection). Inflamed kidneys that happens when bacteria spread to the upper part of the urinary tract.
  • Urethritis. Swelling of the urethra. Bacteria often cause these infections, but they can also occur due to viruses or injury to the urethra.

What Causes UTIs?

Most UTIs form when bacteria get into the urinary system through the urethra.

They may enter your urethra when you wipe your anus after you poop. Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, which can cause a UTI, live in poop.

When bacteria enter the urethra, they cause inflammation. They can travel into the ureters, bladder, and kidneys if left untreated.

What Are UTI Risk Factors and Complications?

Women are at higher risk of getting UTIs.

Women have shorter urethras than men, so bacteria have shorter distances to travel to reach the bladder. A woman's anus is also closer to her urethra, which makes it easier for bacteria to reach the urethra.

Other factors that put you at greater risk for UTIs include:

  • Aging. As we age, the bladder and pelvic floor muscles may weaken. Weak muscles can make it hard to fully empty your bladder, allowing bacteria to multiply.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes can damage your nerves. This damage can make it hard to tell when you need to pee. Urine stays in the bladder, giving bacteria time to grow.
  • History of UTIs. If you've had past UTIs, you're more likely to get another one.
  • Kidney stones. Hard, stone-like pieces that form in the kidneys can block urine flow in the ureters. These blockages allow pee to collect and bacteria to multiply.
  • Menopause. The hormone changes of menopause can change the tissue in a woman's vagina. These thinner, drier tissues create a setting that boosts bacteria growth.
  • Pregnancy. Your growing baby may put pressure on your bladder, making it hard to empty it fully.
  • Prostate enlargement. When a man's prostate becomes enlarged, it may cause the urethra to narrow and block urine flow. This can prevent you from fully emptying your bladder.
  • Sex. You and your partner may share germs that cause UTIs.
  • Urinary catheter. If you've had a tube placed in your urethra, bacteria may enter your urinary tract more easily.

When left untreated, UTIs can cause complications.

You may get a kidney infection. Rarely, the infection can enter your bloodstream (known as sepsis) and become a medical emergency.

In older adults, UTIs can cause symptoms such as confusion or seeing or hearing things that aren't there.

How Do I Prevent UTIs?

You can help prevent UTIs by drinking lots of water (six to eight glasses daily).

It's also vital to pee when you feel the need. Emptying your bladder fully helps keep bacteria from growing.

You can also reduce your chances of getting a UTI by wiping from front to back after you poop. If you're a woman, you should:

  • Avoid tight-fitting pants and wear underwear with a cotton crotch.
  • Talk with your doctor about the best birth control method for you. Spermicides may increase your risk of UTIs.
  • Change out of wet bathing suits or sweaty workout clothes right away.
  • Avoid douching and feminine hygiene sprays.

Why Choose UPMC Urology for UTI Care?

Our experts:

  • Diagnose and treat all issues that affect the urinary tract.
  • Assess your symptoms and create a treatment plan to help you feel better as soon as possible.

What Are the Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?

If you have a UTI, it may burn or hurt when you pee. You may also feel like you have to pee often, even if your bladder is empty.

You may have:

  • Urine that smells very strong or has an unusual foul smell.
  • Pee that is bloody or looks cloudy.
  • Fever (a sign of a kidney infection).
  • Pressure in your pelvis or near your rectum.
  • Pain in your back or below your ribs.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Confusion, fatigue, or weakness.

Let your doctor know if you have any UTI symptoms. They may go away faster when treated early.

Call your doctor right away if you have a fever, confusion, or pain.

How Do You Diagnose a UTI?

Doctors diagnose UTIs with certain tests.

Urine test

Your doctor may have you wipe your urethra with a special wipe before taking a urine sample.

They check your urine for:

  • Bacteria.
  • Certain chemicals.
  • White and red blood cells, which can be a sign of infection.

Cystography

Doctors insert a flexible tube (catheter) into your urethra and inject a contrast dye into your bladder to make it visible. They take x-rays of your bladder to look for problems that may cause UTIs.

You only need this test if you have frequent UTIs.

Cystoscopy

If you have frequent UTIs, doctors may use a flexible, lighted tube to check your bladder. They give you medicine to numb the urethra before inserting the tube.

Your doctor fills your bladder with fluid so it will stretch during the exam.

Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)

IVP is an imaging test of the urinary tract, where your doctor:

  • Injects a contrast dye into a vein. The dye moves through your blood and into your kidneys.
  • Takes x-rays of your bladder, kidneys, and ureters.
  • Looks for blockages and other problems that may affect how you pee.

How Do You Treat a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?

UTIs are treatable and often go away in a few days when treated early.

Your doctor will prescribe an oral antibiotic to treat the UTI, which you'll take for three to 14 days. It's vital to finish all the medicine, even if you feel better.

If you have frequent UTIs, doctors may suggest:

  • Taking a single dose of antibiotic after sexual activity.
  • Keeping a short course (about three days) of antibiotics at home in case you get a UTI.
  • A daily antibiotic to help prevent UTIs.

If a UTI is severe and has spread to your kidneys, you may need IV antibiotics. You may also need to receive IV fluids.

To speak with a UPMC urology expert, contact the Department of Urology at 412-692-4100.