Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Photo Courtesy: Prostock-Studio/iStock

Do you have a burning sensation when you pee or notice blood in your urine when you urinate (pee)? Have you felt the need to urinate more often than usual, even though you only pass small amounts of urine? If so, you might have a common condition called a urinary tract infection (UTI). A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract that can lead to pain with urination as well as other symptoms depending on what part of the urinary tract is affected. It is important that you see your doctor for a UTI because it can worsen and cause damage to your kidneys if left untreated. Continue reading to learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for UTIs.

What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A UTI is an infection of any part of the urinary tract – the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. The urinary tract is the part of your body that removes waste from the body via urine. Your kidneys remove waste from your blood and make urine. Ureters transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder, which stores your urine until you are ready to use the bathroom. Your urethra carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. You can get a UTI when germs called bacteria enter your urinary tract through your urethra.

Signs and Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Symptoms of a UTI most commonly include:

  • Painful urination
  • Frequent urination
  • Inability to start urinating
  • A sudden need to urinate
  • Blood in the urine

Your symptoms will vary depending on the part of the infected urinary tract. For example, if your UTI has infected the kidneys, you may experience:

  • Back or side pain
  • High fever
  • Shaking and chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting


If your UTI goes untreated, you may have one or more of the following complications:

  • Repeated UTIs
  • Permanent kidney damage
  • Increased risk of pregnancy complications
  • Narrowing of the urethra 
  • Sepsis – a potentially life-threatening infection of the blood

Causes of Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

You can get a UTI when germs called bacteria get into your urinary tract and start to multiply, usually through your urethra. Several risk factors can increase your risk of bacteria getting into your urinary tract:

  • Female anatomy: Females are more likely to get UTIs than males because they have shorter urethras on average. This shortens the distance bacteria must travel to enter the urinary tract.
  • Sexual activity: Sexually active females are more likely to get UTIs than females who are not sexually active. 
  • Certain types of birth control: Females who use diaphragms or spermicidal agents for birth control are more likely to get UTIs than females who don’t.
  • Blockages in the urinary tract: Kidney stones or an enlarged prostate can trap urine in the bladder, increasing your risk of UTIs.
  • A weak immune system: Diabetes and other conditions that weaken the immune system increases your likelihood of getting UTIs.
  • Catheter use: Some people can’t urinate on their own, and they need a device called a catheter placed in their body to help them urinate. This may include people hospitalized, people with neurological issues, and those who are paralyzed. People with a catheter are at increased risk of UTI.

Diagnostic Tests

Your UTI can be diagnosed with a urine test. If you have symptoms of a UTI, your doctor will collect a sample of your urine to test it for the presence of bacteria and other signs of infection. For this urine test, your doctor will ask you to give the sample in the doctor’s office bathroom, and it will be done as a clean catch sample. This means you’ll need to use cleansing wipes before collecting a midstream voided sample. This test is all you need for most uncomplicated UTIs because most cases of UTIs are caused by the E.coli bacteria.

For some people (such as makes, those with diabetes, those who are immunosuppressed, and those who are pregnant), the doctor may also run a urine culture. This doesn’t require an extra sample. This is a test to determine which bacteria are growing and if your doctor suspects that a different bacteria than E.coli is growing.


How do you cure a urinary tract infection? UTI treatment consists of antibiotics you take at home orally. If you have an uncomplicated UTI, this is all that is needed. If you have a complicated or severe UTI, your doctor will talk to you about what additional treatment may be needed, such as hospitalization or antibiotics through an IV catheter. 

There are also ways to ease your discomfort as the antibiotics are clearing your infection:

  • Drink a lot of water: Water helps dilute your urine and flush out bacteria from your urinary tract.
  • Avoid drinks that may irritate your bladder: Avoid coffee, alcohol, and soft drinks containing citrus juice or caffeine. These drinks can irritate the bladder and make your urge to urinate worse.
  • Use a heating pad: Apply a warm, but not hot, heating pad to your abdomen to minimize bladder discomfort.

Follow-up is usually not needed if you have an uncomplicated UTI. If your symptoms do not improve after taking your antibiotics, you should return to your doctor’s office for further testing. For some people, such as those who are pregnant, it’s important to return for your scheduled follow-up to get retested.

Next Steps: Prevention

How do you prevent urinary tract infections? Here are a few ways you can do just that:

  • Drink plenty of liquids, especially water, to flush the bacteria out of your body.
  • Drink cranberry juice. There is some evidence to suggest that cranberry products may have infection-fighting properties, though studies are inconclusive about this. For most people, there is little harm in drinking cranberry juice for UTIs.
  • After using the bathroom, wipe from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria from your anus to your vagina and urethra.
  • Empty your bladder soon after intercourse to flush out bacteria.
  • Avoid feminine products like douches, deodorant sprays, and powders because they can irritate your urethra.
  • Consider changing your birth control if you use diaphragms or spermicidal, as they can increase your risk of getting a UTI.

When To See Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor if you feel like you might be having UTI symptoms. If you have frequent UTIs or a chronic kidney infection, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in urinary disorders, called a urologist, or kidney disorders, called a nephrologist, for an evaluation.If you still have questions about UTIs, ask your doctor for more information.

Resource Links:

  1. “The Urinary Tract & How it Works” via NIH
  2. “Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)” via Mayo Clinic
  3. “Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)” via Planned Parenthood
  4. “Why UTIs Happen Differently in Men and Women” via Cleveland Clinic
  5. “Urinary Tract Infection” via StatPearls