You just used the bathroom ten minutes ago, but now you feel like you have to urinate again. When you do, you feel a burning sensation. Chances are, you have a urinary tract infection (UTI). How serious is it, and what should you do next?
In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks about UTI diagnosis and treatment with Varuna Raizada, MD, a urogynecologist at Scripps Clinic Anderson Medical Pavilion in La Jolla and Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo.
The urinary tract includes the kidneys, bladder and urethra, which carries urine from the bladder out of the body. A UTI can develop anywhere in the urinary tract but most often starts in the bladder, which is why UTIs are commonly called bladder infections or cystitis. Without treatment, bladder infections can travel to the upper part of the urinary tract and infect the kidneys, which can become a serious condition.
Anyone can get a UTI, but they are more common among women than men. More than half of women will have at least one UTI during her lifetime. Some will have repeated or recurrent infections, which is defined as three UTIs within a 12-month period, or two infections during the previous six months.
“Women have a higher risk of a UTI in part because of their anatomy; a woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s, so the bacteria has less distance to travel to reach the bladder,” says Dr. Raizada. “Sexual intercourse is another common cause of UTI in women, because bacteria is more easily pushed into the urethra from outside the body.”
Pregnancy hormones can affect the “good” bacteria in the urinary tract that help prevent UTI. Also, because it can be difficult to completely empty the bladder during pregnancy, infected urine may remain in the bladder.
Hormonal changes after menopause can increase the risk of developing a UTI.
Diabetes can affect your immune system and make it harder to fight off an infection.
A catheter is a thin tube that goes from the urethra into the bladder to help drain urine and may be used after surgery when you can’t get to a bathroom.
“The most common UTI symptom is the sudden onset of burning with urination. That is the hallmark,” says Dr. Raizada. “And if left unchecked, you may even notice some blood in urine.”
In addition to burning, UTI symptoms often include frequency, which is feeling like you need to urinate often, and urgency, which is feeling the need to go immediately. It’s common to have both symptoms yet produce little or no urine. You may also feel weak, crampy or feverish.
If you have UTI symptoms, call your primary care doctor or OB/GYN right away. They will order a urine test in the office or at a local lab to confirm that you have an infection and prescribe an antibiotic. Most people take antibiotics for a UTI for three to seven days; be sure to finish the entire prescription, even if you start to feel better after a few days.
Some bacteria that cause UTI are resistant to certain antibiotics. Your doctor also may order a urine culture to determine which type of bacteria is causing the infection and which antibiotics will be effective in treating it.
If you have symptoms, don’t wait to call your doctor or see if the symptoms go away. While the initial symptoms may improve after a day or so, the infection is still very much active.
“If the bladder infection tracks up into the kidneys you can get very sick, with a high fever, severe pain in your lower back and blood in the urine,” says Dr. Raizada. “These are signs of very serious infections, which sometimes may lead to admission to the hospital and intravenous antibiotics.”
Some things may help prevent a UTI, such as taking cranberry pills or vitamin C. Urinating immediately after sex can help wash out any potentially harmful bacteria. Women who have recurrent UTI infections may be prescribed an antibiotic to take after sex to help ward off infection. If you have recurrent infections, talk to your doctor about ways to help prevent them.