Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common ailment, especially among women. These infections can cause frequent and painful urination, and pain in your side or lower back. Fortunately, UTIs are usually simple to treat at a doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic.
The urinary tract includes the urethra, ureters, bladder and kidneys. This system is normally free of bacteria. What is a UTI, you ask? When bacteria infects any part of the urinary tract, it is considered a urinary tract infection, or UTI.
Discharge from the urethra
Frequent and/or urgent need to urinate
Difficulty starting to urinate
Blood in the urine
Discomfort in the lower belly
Pain or a burning sensation while urinating
A feeling of having to urinate even when the bladder
Urinary tract infections are more common in females than in males. Untreated in women, UTIs can lead to a more serious infection which can spread to the kidneys and eventually sepsis.
While less likely to get a UTI, men may sometimes get a calcified stone in their longer, narrower urethra that will cause a UTI. If it spreads to the kidneys and prostate, UTIs in men can also eventually lead to sepsis.
Urinary tract infections can occur when bacteria enters your urinary system. Bacteria can enter through the urethra, which is the tube connecting the bladder to the outside of your body. In males, the urethra opening is on the penis. In females, it is above the vaginal opening. The most commonly infected parts of the urinary system are the urethra and the bladder. Usually, the bacteria causing the infection come from the rectum or your skin. UTI causes can include introducing bacteria to the urethra during sexual activity or when wiping after using the bathroom.
People who are more sexually active are more likely to get a UTI. The risk is increased with new sexual partners.
Young children and older adults that have certain bladder conditions or incomplete emptying of the bladder during urination, are more likely to get bladder infections (cystitis).
Menopause and spermicides can cause changes in which types of bacteria are present in the vagina. This can make you more vulnerable to an infection.
Treatments or conditions that affect the immune system (such as diabetes) can make frequent urinary tract infections more likely.
Problems like an enlarged prostate, kidney stones, and other urinary tract abnormalities are risk factors for developing UTIs.
Women get UTIs much more frequently than men do. In biological females, the urethra is in closer proximity to the anus. This increases the possibility of exposure to bacteria such as E. coli. The urethra is also shorter in females, meaning bacteria can reach the bladder more easily. This anatomy puts females at a higher risk of getting urinary tract infections.
Sexual activity is one of the primary ways bacteria can enter the urinary tract. Bacteria on the skin, fingers, mouth and genitalia can enter the urethra upon contact. The risk increases if something touches or penetrates the anus and then touches the penis or vagina. This can carry E. coli bacteria to the urethra, where it can enter the urinary tract.
Although sexual activity can aid bacteria in entering the urinary system, UTIs are not considered contagious or sexually transmitted. With that being said, some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause UTIs as a side effect. These STIs, like gonorrhea, trichomoniasis and chlamydia, can be passed between sexual partners.
While you won’t pass on a UTI to your partner, a UTI can make sexual activity uncomfortable or painful. It can also irritate the tissues of the urinary tract, leading to increased discomfort and even pain. Further, sexual activity can introduce more bacteria into the urinary tract, making the infection worse.
To be safest, avoid any form of sexual contact with the area around the urethra while you recover. It’s recommended that you avoid sex until your treatment is finished and your symptoms are gone.
Urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will choose the best type of antibiotic for your infection and advise you on how long you need to take it. These choices are based on your medical history, your symptoms, and the type of bacteria your urinary tract is infected with.
You may start feeling better within a few days of taking antibiotics for your UTI. Even if you’re feeling better, it’s important to take the full course of medicine prescribed by your doctor. Stopping the medicine for your UTI early can lead to more difficult infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Severe urinary tract infections may require hospitalization. You can receive antibiotics by IV to fight off the infection.
If you have recurring UTIs, your doctor may order additional tests to see if a structural issue in the urinary tract is contributing to your infections. You may be advised to take antibiotics when symptoms occur, after sex, or to take a low dose for a longer period of time. If you’ve reached menopause, the medicine for your UTI may include vaginal estrogen cream.
There are several things you can do to help prevent yourself from getting a UTI.
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, will make you urinate more frequently. This gives bacteria less time to grow before they are flushed from the urinary tract.
Wipe from front to back. To avoid carrying bacteria from the anus to the urethra, biological females should always wipe from front to back.
Urinate after sex. This will help flush away any bacteria that was introduced into the urinary tract during sex.
Avoid genital irritants. Products like douches, powders and deodorant sprays can irritate the urethra when used around the genitals.
Consider changing birth control methods. Bacterial growth in the urethra is more common with the use of spermicide, unlubricated condoms, and diaphragms.
Most UTIs will not clear up on their own. If you have any symptoms of a UTI, you should speak to your doctor or an urgent care provider. A physician can diagnose your UTI through a urine test and prescribe the right antibiotics to help you feel better.
For urinary tract infections and many other medical needs, WellNow Urgent Care can provide the sound medical advice you need. With more than 180 clinics open 7 days a week, visiting us is easy. Just choose a location and come in at your convenience. We look forward to serving you with the quality medical care you deserve.
This medical information has been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Robert Birenbaum, Chief Medical Officer for WellNow Urgent Care.
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