Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are an uncomfortable yet incredibly common issue affecting millions of people worldwide each year. If you’ve ever had a UTI, you’re probably familiar with the symptoms – especially the burning sensation or pain you feel when you pee. While UTIs are typically not serious, they can cause significant pain and discomfort, especially if left untreated. Recognizing all the symptoms of a UTI and knowing how to manage one properly is critical to maintaining your urinary health.

Understanding UTIs

A UTI is an infection in any part of your urinary system, which includes:

  • Kidneys – Small, bean-shaped organs that filter water and waste products from your blood
  • Ureters – Thin tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder
  • Bladder – A balloon-like organ that stores urine before it leaves your body
  • Urethra – The tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside of your body

A UTI occurs when bacteria (especially E. coli) enter and multiply in your urinary tract, causing inflammation and pain. Most UTIs involve the lower urinary tract (the bladder and urethra). Because the shorter length of the urethra in women provides bacteria with a shorter distance to travel before reaching the bladder, they are at a greater risk of developing UTIs than men. Most women will experience multiple UTIs during their lifetime, making control and prevention essential for women’s health. Additional risk factors for UTIs in women include menopause and certain types of birth control, such as diaphragms.

Several risk factors for UTIs apply to both men and women, including:

  • Sexual activity
  • Kidney stones or other blockages in the urinary tract
  • Using a catheter
  • A weakened immune system
  • Recent urinary procedures

Recognizing UTI Symptoms

UTIs are often associated with pain and discomfort that can impact your life. The most common UTI symptoms include:

  • A strong urge to urinate that doesn’t go away
  • A burning sensation or pain when urinating
  • Urinating often but passing small amounts of urine
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Urine that looks cloudy
  • Signs of blood in your urine (it may appear red, bright pink, or cola-colored)
  • Pain in your flank, abdomen, lower back, or pelvic area

Other symptoms associated with UTIs include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

UTIs are sometimes overlooked or mistaken for other conditions, especially in older adults. Therefore, seeking medical help is important if any of these symptoms arise. Without treatment, UTIs can spread to your kidneys and cause severe health problems, including kidney infections and permanent kidney damage.

Managing Pain and Discomfort

Once your provider identifies the bacteria that caused your UTI and prescribes the appropriate antibiotic, your symptoms should improve quickly. Until then, here are tips to help manage the pain and discomfort you will likely experience:

  • Drink lots of water to help flush bacteria out of your urinary tract
  • Try to empty your bladder each time you urinate
  • Avoid coffee, alcohol, citrus juices, and soft drinks with caffeine, which can irritate your bladder further
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Use a heating pad to relieve pressure on your pelvic area

Be sure to finish the entire course of antibiotics, even if you start feeling better, to ensure the UTI is fully treated and won’t return.

Preventing Future UTIs

Successfully treating one UTI doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get one again. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help yourself stay UTI-free:

  • Stay hydrated – Drinking extra fluids (especially water) helps flush out bacteria from your urinary tract. Drink at least eight glasses of water daily or more.
  • Practice good hygiene – Cleaning yourself well is one of the best ways to prevent future UTIs. Always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement to avoid spreading E. coli from your rectum back into your body. Women should also change menstrual products (such as pads and tampons) regularly.
  • Avoid scented hygiene products – Using scented hygiene products such as deodorant sprays, douches, and powders in your genital area can potentially irritate your urethra.
  • Urinate before and after sex – Sexual activity can also introduce bacteria to your urethra, but urinating before and after helps flush it out. If you can’t urinate, wash your genital area with warm water instead.
  • Drink cranberry juice – Cranberry juice can help prevent UTIs by making urine more acidic, so it’s harder for bacteria to adhere to the walls of your bladder.

When to Seek Medical Help

It’s important to consult a medical provider if your UTI symptoms persist or worsen since untreated UTIs can lead to serious health complications. Seek medical help right away if you have:

  • Fever, chills, nausea, or vomiting in combination with traditional UTI symptoms
  • New blood or pus in your urine
  • New pain in your flank, abdomen, lower back, or pelvic area

You should also seek medical help if:

  • Your symptoms do not improve after taking antibiotics for more than 2-3 days
  • Your symptoms return after treatment is complete
  • You get frequent UTIs (three or more per year)

If you are experiencing symptoms of a UTI, it is important to speak to your TopLine MD Alliance affiliated provider promptly to ensure proper treatment and prevent complications. Affiliated providers can be found cross all specialties including women’s health, family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and many more. To get started, find a TopLine MD provider near you today.