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Understanding UTI

Symptoms

Treatment & Prevention

Talk to Your Doctor

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FAQ

FAQ

Here are brief answers to some of the questions that people frequently ask about urinary tract infections. Longer answers can be found in the part of this Web site linked to each question.

Your health care professional is the best source of information about your health, your symptoms, and your medication. Always consult a health care professional for medical problems.

UNDERSTANDING UTIs
What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
Do men get UTIs? I have heard it’s mainly a woman’s problem?
Do men have symptoms when they get a UTI?
How is UTI different for children?
Did you know some abnormalities in the anatomy of the urinary tract can be detected before a baby is born?
Is UTI different in older adults?
Are bladder infections and UTIs the same thing?
Can you get a kidney infection without knowing you had a bladder infection?
Did you know that most bacteria can't grow in urine, and urine is normally sterile?
What if I don't get treated?
Is it more dangerous if UTIs come back?
Am I more likely to have permanent damage if I get a lot of UTIs?

SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES
What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?
Does my urine look different if I have a urinary tract infection?
Could I have a UTI if I don’t have any symptoms?
How do urinary tract infections start?
Does having sex cause UTIs?
Do tampons cause UTIs?
Are UTIs and yeast infections caused by the same thing?
Why do I seem to get UTIs more often than other people?
Does drinking alcohol have anything to do with getting UTIs?

TREATMENT AND PREVENTION
What can I do to keep these infections from coming back?
Is my personal hygiene the problem?
Does it help to keep the urinary area very clean?
What preventive measures can I take?
Can drinking cranberry juice, a lot of water, or other fluids relieve the pain of a urinary track infection or prevent future infections?
Is there anything I shouldn't drink when I have a UTI?
What can my doctor do to help prevent UTIs from coming back?
Is it dangerous to take antibiotics for months at a time?
If my healthcare professional prescribes medicine for a urinary tract infection, how long will I have to take it?
Can't I just use the antibiotic I used for my sore throat? I have some left.
Will the antibiotics I’m taking for my UTI interfere with my birth control pill?
My doctor gave me three different kinds of antibiotics until he found the one that worked. Is my body immune to antibiotics?
I was scared when my doctor gave me CIPRO. Isn’t CIPRO for anthrax?
Is any new treatment coming to cure UTIs?

TALKING TO YOUR DOCTOR
If I can't get to the doctor right away, is there something I can do to relieve my symptoms?
What should I expect from my doctor and what do I need to tell him or her?
Can I just get a prescription over the phone? Do I need an examination?
My doctor wants to send a small amount of my urine for a "culture." What does that mean?
What is a clean-catch urine specimen?
I have trouble urinating in a strange place. Can I collect the urine at home and bring it with me?
When can I find out about the results of a test?

UNDERSTANDING UTIs

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
The term "urinary tract infection" is a catchall term for an infection anywhere in the urinary tract, from the kidneys to the urine itself. Learn more about understanding UTI.

Do men get UTIs? I have heard it’s mainly a woman’s problem?
Women have far more UTIs than men, but men do have them. If you have the symptoms, be sure to see a doctor. It's especially important if you have difficulty or pain with urination or a discharge. Learn more about who gets UTIs.

Do men have symptoms when they get a UTI?
Men with a UTI have pretty much the same symptoms as women do-bladder irritation, pain when they urinate, need to empty their bladder more often, changes in urine color and smell, flank pain, and fever. Some of these symptoms, such as pain during urination, are similar to the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in men, so a medical visit is necessary to get the right diagnosis and treatment. Learn how UTIs in men may be sexually transmitted.

How is UTI different for children?
In babies, especially in the first month of life, a UTI can be serious. Newborns are not as able as older children and adults to keep an infection from spreading outside the urinary tract, so their UTIs may lead to more dangerous infections elsewhere in the body. If you think your child may have a UTI, see your doctor.

A UTI in an infant or young child may be a sign that something isn’t normal about the anatomy of the urinary tract. Often the healthcare professional sends the child to get an ultrasound image or other type of scan to make sure the urinary tract is OK.

Occasionally a child gets a UTI from a virus. This kind of UTI can be frightening, because the child may have blood in the urine, but the infection usually gets better by itself. Learn more about who gets UTIs.

Did you know some abnormalities in the anatomy of the urinary tract can be detected before a baby is born?
Ultrasound scans during pregnancy have led to a major improvement in preventing UTIs by finding urinary tract abnormalities in babies. In many cases these can be surgically corrected before the baby starts getting UTIs or gets kidney damage. Learn more about the physical causes of UTIs.

Is UTI different in older adults?
Older adults who have a UTI may not have obvious symptoms. The person may have only discomfort or fever and may not be able to be very specific about the nature of the discomfort. Depending on your age, your doctor may check more frequently to see whether you have a UTI. Learn more about who gets UTIs.

Are bladder infections and UTIs the same thing?
Bladder infections are one kind of UTI. The urinary tract has four major parts: the kidneys and ureters (which connect the kidneys to the bladder) in the upper part, and the bladder and the urethra (the tube that you urinate through) in the lower part. Learn more about the urinary tract.

When you have an infection in either the lower or the upper urinary tract, your bladder can feel "irritable" (giving you a feeling of discomfort and a feeling that you need to empty your bladder frequently). Because of this, sometimes people refer to UTIs as “bladder infections,” even when the infection is in another part of the urinary tract. Learn more about where the infection is located.

Can you get a kidney infection without knowing you had a bladder infection?
Some infections seem to get to the kidneys very quickly, without causing any bladder symptoms. So it is possible to have a kidney infection without bladder symptoms. Since most kidney infections are caused by bacteria that go from the skin up the urinary tract through the bladder, the bacteria infect the bladder first, even though a person might not have bladder symptoms before the kidney pain begins. Learn more when you talk to your doctor.

Did you know that most bacteria can't grow in urine, and urine is normally sterile?
The kinds of bacteria that cause UTIs have become specially adapted to survive in the urine, and they stick to the walls of the urinary tract so they don’t get washed out when you empty your bladder. Learn more about the bacterial causes of UTIs.

What if I don't get treated?
Untreated UTIs can damage the kidneys and leave permanent scarring, which can leave a person less able to clean waste products from the blood. Fortunately, the kidneys have a great deal of reserve capacity. But they can lose some of that capacity after repeated infections that are not fully treated. For this reason it is essential to treat every infection and to make sure it doesn’t come back. Learn more when you talk to your doctor.

Is it more dangerous if UTIs come back?
Some people get a lot of UTIs. This sometimes is because they have an anatomic abnormality; for example, in many people the ureter (the tube between the kidney and the bladder) allows small amounts of urine to reverse direction (reflux) and pass back up from the bladder to the kidney. If reflux is severe, this can cause infections and kidney damage. If you have many repeated UTIs, your doctor may want to check you for this kind of problem. Learn more when you talk to your doctor.

Am I more likely to have permanent damage if I get a lot of UTIs?
People who have many UTIs are at higher risk of permanent kidney damage. Treating each episode promptly and completely is the best way to keep the kidneys healthy. This is why the doctor will try to figure out if there is an anatomic cause of repeated UTIs, such as urine flowing back to the kidneys or poor bladder emptying. Learn more when you talk to your doctor.

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SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES

What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?
A need to empty your bladder (urinate) more often than usual, a frequent and urgent need to urinate immediately even though not much urine comes out, pain or burning while urinating, and pressure over the pubic bone are common symptoms of a lower urinary tract infection (affecting the bladder or urethra). Other symptoms are: difficulty keeping urine from leaking, pain in the belly (lower abdomen), and discharge or pus when urinating. Back pain, chills, or fever along with some of those symptoms may indicate a kidney (upper urinary tract) infection, which is more serious than one in the lower urinary tract. Other problems can cause these symptoms, so you need a healthcare professional to figure out what’s wrong.

Important: If your symptoms are severe or last more than a day or two, see your doctor. The following symptoms are serious. If you have them, get medical attention right away:

  • Intense pain in the flank (the area between your ribs and your hip) or in the back just below the rib cage
  • High fever
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Bloody or dark brown urine

Learn more about the symptoms of UTIs.

Does my urine look different if I have a urinary tract infection?
Your urine in the toilet bowl may look whitish or cloudy (instead of yellowish and clear) or have a red tinge to it, which means that it contains some blood. The urine may have an odd smell or an odd color. Learn whether or not you may have a UTI.

Could I have a UTI if I don’t have any symptoms?
You can have a UTI without symptoms. Symptoms may bother you less after you've had an infection that has been active for several days or weeks. The infection may have been partially controlled by your body’s defenses or by a medicine, but it can still be there at a low level without symptoms.

Symptoms may not be as bad the second, third, or fourth time you get a UTI. Not having symptoms does not mean that the infection is less harmful. This is why your urine may be checked again after your infection has been treated. Learn whether or not you may have a UTI.

How do urinary tract infections start?
Most urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria that have traveled to the urinary tract from the person's own intestine or (in women) vagina. The bacteria may move to the urinary tract or be encouraged to grow there because of sexual activity, the use of a diaphragm or spermicide (for contraception), slight differences in the usual way the internal organs are shaped (anatomic abnormalities), a woman’s inborn (genetic) tendency, or having a catheter inserted to carry urine out of the body. Learn more about the primary causes of UTIs.

Does having sex cause UTIs?
Sexual activity increases the chance of having a UTI. When women first become sexually active, the likelihood of UTI rises. Getting a UTI also seems to be more likely during periods of higher sexual activity. Sexual activity can move bacteria from a man’s penis or a woman’s skin into the place where urine comes out of her body (the urethral opening). Men who have anal sex without using a condom (unprotected anal sex) may increase their chances of getting urinary tract infections. Learn more about the primary causes of UTIs.

Important: Using a spermicidal gel, with or without a diaphragm, increases the chances of getting a UTI.
Gentle cleansing (rinsing or showering) after sexual intercourse can help, especially if spermicidal gel has been used. Learn more about sexual practices that may cause a UTI.

Do tampons cause UTIs?
Tampons themselves do not cause UTIs. By putting pressure on the urethra and bladder, a tampon can slightly block urine flow, which may slightly increase the risk of infection. Learn more about the primary causes of UTIs.

Are UTIs and yeast infections caused by the same thing?
UTI and yeast infections are very different from one another. There is a common kind of yeast (Candida) that can infect the vagina, but it doesn’t usually infect the urinary tract. The irritation caused by a yeast infection may feel like a UTI, but it’s not the same. UTIs are caused by bacteria in the urinary tract (urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys). Similarly, the bacteria that cause UTIs don't usually cause vaginitis. Learn about what else can cause the same symptoms as a UTI.

Why do I seem to get UTIs more often than other people?
Some factors that increase the likelihood of getting UTIs are being a sexually active young woman, having diabetes, having anatomic abnormalities of the urinary tract (such as blockage or narrowing), being pregnant, and having an enlarged prostate (in men). Learn more about the primary causes of UTIs.

Does drinking alcohol have anything to do with getting UTIs?
Alcohol intake does not cause or increase the risk of UTI. Alcohol is irritating to the bladder, so having a drink makes you feel like you need to empty your bladder. That is why drinking can worsen this symptom of UTI. Learn more about the primary causes of UTIs.

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TREATMENT AND PREVENTION

What can I do to keep these infections from coming back?
Home remedies that seem to help some women, although they have not been scientifically proven to make a difference, include emptying the bladder just before or after having sexual intercourse in the vagina and keeping the opening where urine comes out (the urethral opening) very clean. If you have had UTIs again and again, your healthcare professional may be willing to prescribe an antibiotic for you to keep at home and take at the first familiar sign of infection. Learn more about antibiotics.

CIPRO XR is part of a new class of drugs that are effective against a wide variety of bacteria, including the ones that cause UTIs.
Learn more about CIPRO XR.

For people whose repeated infections are caused by an anatomic abnormality or a blockage inside the urinary tract, surgery may be the only way to keep future infections away. Learn more about the primary causes of UTIs.

Is my personal hygiene the problem?
There is no known way to prevent all UTIs. Having a UTI does not mean you have failed to have good hygiene or otherwise brought it on yourself. Learn more about personal hygiene.

Does it help to keep the urinary area very clean?
Keeping the area around the urethral opening clean can help, but cleaning too much is irritating and not beneficial. The barriers to bacteria in this area include thin membranes lining the urinary tract, and cleaning too vigorously can break these membranes. Soaking in bubble bath can increase the likelihood of UTIs, particularly in children. Learn more about personal hygiene.

What preventive measures can I take?
Be sure to complete the antibiotic course prescribed by your healthcare professional. Stopping too soon can allow the infection to return quickly or can lead to infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Be alert to the early symptoms of infection and get medical attention without delay. Learn more about antibiotics.

Can drinking cranberry juice, a lot of water, or other fluids relieve the pain of a urinary track infection or prevent future infections?
When the body breaks down cranberry juice, it produces a substance that has been shown to have a cleansing effect in the urinary tract. It is not a reliable home treatment for infection, but may help prevent it. Be careful, though: cranberry juice contains a lot of sugar.

Drinking a lot of water and juice during recovery from a UTI helps flush any bacteria or toxins from the urinary tract and improves the bacteria-killing power of urine. But you don’t need to force yourself to drink more than you feel comfortable with. Learn more about possible home remedies.

Important: Get medical attention right away if you have flank pain (pain between your ribs and your hip), mid-back (kidney) pain, and high fever.
These symptoms may mean that your kidneys are infected and that you need antibiotics quickly. Learn more about antibiotics.

Is there anything I shouldn't drink when I have a UTI?
Caffeine and alcohol are mildly irritating to the bladder and can increase the intensity of symptoms of UTI. Though drinks that have caffeine and alcohol in them are not harmful, they can make you feel worse. Learn more when you talk to your doctor.

What can my doctor do to help prevent UTIs from coming back?
For someone with anatomic abnormalities of the urinary tract, surgery may be necessary to prevent severe kidney damage. Your doctor needs to know the history of your infections to decide whether to test for anatomic problems.

Another important preventive step your physician can take is to screen for diabetes. Detecting and controlling diabetes is very important in preventing UTI and kidney damage.

If you are a person who gets UTIs over and over again, your healthcare professional may try to break the cycle by prescribing daily antibiotics at a low dose for many months. The idea is to help the body regain its defenses against infection. Learn more when you talk to your doctor.

Is it dangerous to take antibiotics for months at a time?
Your healthcare professional is aware that taking low levels of antibiotics can lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. However, most of the time it doesn’t cause any problems. Your doctor will pay special attention to your health while you are taking antibiotics. Learn more when you talk to your doctor.

If my healthcare professional prescribes medicine for a urinary tract infection, how long will I have to take it?
Different medicines for urinary tract infections may be taken for 3 days, 1 to 2 weeks, or as long as 6 months. The length of time you will take your antibiotic will depend on the type of antibiotic prescribed for you, the dosage (how much you take each time and how often you will take it), the place in the urinary tract where your infection is located, and how bad the infection is. The healthcare professional who prescribes the medication will tell you how long to take it. This should also be written on the label. Ask about the dosage (the amount of medication in each pill, how many pills to take at a time, and how many times to take the medicine each day) and how long to take your medicine—until you are sure you understand. Your pharmacist can answer questions as well. Learn more about CIPRO® XR.

Can't I just use the antibiotic I used for my sore throat? I have some left.
Antibiotics are the main treatment for UTI. Different antibiotics are good for different kinds of infections, so it is best to use one that has been proven effective in UTI. Some of the antibiotics used for UTI are used for other kinds of infections, but many are designed to treat UTI specifically. Learn more about antibiotics.

Will the antibiotics I’m taking for my UTI interfere with my birth control pill?
Generally, the antibiotics used for UTI do not interfere with the effectiveness of birth control pills. However, taking some kinds of antibiotics (for example, penicillin or tetracycline) with birth control pills might make the birth control pills less effective. It might be a good idea to use an additional method of contraception while you’re taking any of these antibiotics. Learn more when you talk to your doctor.

My doctor gave me three different kinds of antibiotics until he found the one that worked. Is my body immune to antibiotics?
The bacteria that caused your UTI may not be the same as the bacteria that cause most people’s UTIs. Your doctor probably first tried an antibiotic that works for most UTIs. Your germs may have been resistant to that antibiotic, so a different antibiotic was needed. It’s possible that the second antibiotic also didn’t work or caused some side effects, so another was needed. Sometimes the antibiotic must be changed because some resistant bacteria are mixed in with the other bacteria in the infection, and the UTI won’t go away completely until all the bacteria are destroyed. Learn more about bacterial causes of UTIs.

I was scared when my doctor gave me CIPRO. Isn’t CIPRO for anthrax?
CIPRO (ciprofloxacin) is a well-studied antibiotic that was widely used for UTIs and other infections long before the anthrax scare of 2002. CIPRO is an excellent antibiotic for use in UTIs and is not too strong or risky for this purpose. Learn more about CIPRO® XR.

Is any new treatment coming to cure UTIs?
Better ways to treat UTI are always being developed. Research has led to treatments that take much less time (for example, 3 days instead of 2 weeks) but are just as effective. Researchers are studying ways to use long-term antibiotics to prevent repeated infection. Better methods of detecting abnormalities of the urinary tract have helped many people who have repeated UTIs. Learn more when you talk to your doctor.

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TALKING TO YOUR DOCTOR

If I can't get to the doctor right away, is there something I can do to relieve my symptoms?
If you have mild symptoms, you can probably take care of yourself at home overnight or for a few hours. Drink lots of fluids. The best drinks are citrus juices, which make the urine acidic and less nourishing for bacteria, and cranberry juice, which has a mild bacteria-killing effect. Even plain water is beneficial, because it will increase the amount of urine you make and wash some bacteria out of the urinary tract. But even large amounts of cranberry juice are not a reliable treatment for urinary tract infections. Common painkillers such as aspirin or Tylenol can also give you some relief. Learn more about possible home remedies.

What should I expect from my doctor and what do I need to tell him or her?
Your healthcare professional will want to know how long you’ve had your symptoms and whether you ever had urinary tract problems before. Be sure to mention anything that might have an influence on your infection or its treatment, such as an allergy to some antibiotics. You will be asked about conditions that could increase the likelihood of UTI, like diabetes, pregnancy, increased sexual activity, and abnormalities of the kidneys or other parts of the urinary tract.

Important: Be sure your doctor knows about your other medical problems and what medicines you are taking for them.
If you have a medical problem like heart disease or high blood pressure, your healthcare professional needs to know about this. Medicines you are taking could change the effects of the antibiotics you receive, and vice versa. Learn how to prepare for your doctor's visit.

Can I just get a prescription over the phone? Do I need an examination?
The first time you have a UTI, you need to see a healthcare professional, who will figure out whether your symptoms are caused by a UTI or some other problem. Urine testing will be done to be sure that you get an antibiotic that works on the kind of bacteria that are causing your infection. An examination will show whether anything out of the ordinary is causing your problem. For example, if you have tenderness when your back is pressed or if you are pregnant, you would not receive the same treatment as someone without these conditions. Learn more when you talk to your doctor.

My doctor wants to send a small amount of my urine for a "culture." What does that mean?
In a laboratory, a small amount of urine will be put together with nutrients and left in a warm place for a day or two to see what grows in it. The results will tell your healthcare professional which antibiotics are likely to work best against your infection. Learn more about laboratory tests for UTIs.

What is a clean-catch urine specimen?
A clean-catch urine specimen is a small amount of urine that has been caught in a cup. First, the urethral opening (where the urine comes out) is carefully cleaned to make sure the urine does not pick up any bacteria that may be around the opening as the infection leaves the body. Learn how to collect a clean-catch specimen.

Important: Follow the "clean-catch" instructions carefully.
The urine specimen you provide must not contain skin debris, soap, or other material that may be near your urethra (the opening for urine outflow).

I have trouble urinating in a strange place. Can I collect the urine at home and bring it with me?
To collect the specimen at home, you need a sterile container to collect urine in, and you have to get a "clean-catch" specimen. You must then keep the urine cold but not frozen (in a refrigerator) until it is tested. It is best to get a container and instructions at the doctor’s office ahead of time. Learn how to collect a clean-catch specimen.

When can I find out about the results of a test?
If your healthcare professional does a dipstick test of your urine (to check for diabetes and infection), it takes only a few minutes, so you’ll know the results before you leave the office.

On the other hand, a urine culture takes several days, so the healthcare professional has to guess which antibiotic is likely to work before the test results are back. To choose an antibiotic for you, your healthcare professional thinks about which bacteria usually cause UTIs and which ones you in particular are likely to have because of your individual health situation. Learn more about laboratory tests for UTIs.

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