Here’s how to diagnose a UTI, get treatment, and hopefully never get one again
What is it?
A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of the urinary system. Most commonly, infections are in the lower urinary tract – ie. the bladder and urethra. If left untreated, however, a UTI can spread to the ureters or kidneys in your upper urinary tract, which can lead to permanent kidney damage and even death. That’s why it’s important to treat a UTI sooner rather than later, although if you’re experiencing any of the classic symptoms along with your UTI, you probably don’t need any extra motivation to get treatment!
In many cases, a UTI can be diagnosed by a doctor based on symptoms alone, and many women who have gotten a UTI previously know when they have one again. If you suspect that you have a UTI, you should see your primary care doctor or gynecologist in person. Tight on time? Get UTI treatment online!
How do I know if I have a UTI?
Symptoms can vary from person to person. For some, (especially the very old or very young), UTI symptoms can be less specific, and some people might not have any symptoms at all.
Classic symptoms of a UTI include:
- A burning sensation when you urinate
- Feeling like you need to urinate all the time, even when your bladder is empty.
- Urine that is cloudy, bloody/discolored, or has a strong odor
- Pelvic pressure or discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Upper back and side pain
- High fever
- Shaking and chills
(If you are experiencing any of the last 5 symptoms, listed in bold, this could be a sign that the infection has spread to your kidneys. It’s important to contact your doctor or go to urgent care as soon as you can.)
Keep in mind that there are some other medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms, particularly certain sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia or ghonorrea. Both are totally treatable, but not with the same meds you’d use on a UTI. That’s why it’s important to tell your doctor if you’re having recurring UTI’s or additional symptoms. (The doctors at HeyDoctor will specifically screen for this.)
Why did this happen to me!?
Anyone can get a UTI, but they’re most common in women aged 16 to 35. Most UTIs (80-90%) are caused when E. coli, (the bacteria found in feces and in the digestive tracts of humans and animals) enters the urinary tract through the urethra where they begin to multiply.
Things that can increase your risk for a UTI include:
- Having female anatomy - someone with female anatomy has a shorter urethra, making it easier for an infection to reach the bladder. On top of that, the urethral opening is closer to the anus on the female body than on a male body.
- Sexual Activity - UTIs are not considered sexually transmitted infections, but being sexually active does increase your risk of getting one.
- Using certain kinds of birth control - people who use diaphragms or certain spermicidal creams may be at a higher risk for UTIs.
- Menopause or pregnancy
- Having compromised immune system - individuals with certain conditions like AIDS or diabetes may be more susceptible to UTIs.
Most UTI’s can be diagnosed based on your symptoms alone, and then treated with a simple course of antibiotics. In special circumstances a UTI may require more intensive treatment.
While you wait for the antibiotics to start relieving symptoms, there are a few things you can do to help. Drink plenty of fluids to dilute the urine and help flush out bacteria. But remember that not all fluids are created equal - alcohol, caffeine and citrusy beverages can all irritate your bladder and make your symptoms even worse. And finally, if you’re having lower abdominal pain from the infection, you can use a heating pad on the affected area.
What drugs are used to treat UTI’s?
Drugs commonly prescribed to treat simple UTIs include:
- Trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Septra, others)
- Fosfomycin (Monurol)
- Nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid)
- Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
- Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
- Cephalexin (Keflex)
- Ceftriaxone (Rocephin)
- Azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax)
- Doxycycline (Monodox, Vibramycin, others)
How do I prevent UTI’s in the future?
- Wipe from front to back, and keep your genital area clean. But stay away from douches and feminine hygiene sprays, which only cause irritation. Avoid tight-fitting or synthetic underwear or pants, which trap moisture and encourage bacterial growth.
- Stay hydrated and urinate whenever you feel the need to go. This will help keep things moving through your urinary tract and prevent bacteria from latching on and spreading. Some people drink cranberry juice to stave off a UTI, but the evidence for the efficacy of this is slim.
- Clean up before sex to prevent any lingering bacteria from getting pushed towards your urethra. Remember that most UTI’s are caused by the bacteria that’s found in the rectum and anus, so keep sexual activity there separate from your urethra! Urinating after sex can help flush out any lingering bacteria.
- If you use a diaphragm or spermicidal jelly and get UTI’s frequently, consider switching birth control methods as these increase your risk for getting a UTI. And don’t be afraid to use lubricant or lubricated condoms during sex, as excess friction can irritate your urethra, making you more susceptible to infection.