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Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Definition

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system — your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Most infections involve the lower urinary tract — the bladder and the urethra.

Women are at greater risk of developing a UTI than men are. Infection limited to your bladder can be painful and annoying. However, serious consequences can occur if a UTI spreads to your kidneys.

Symptoms

You may have an infection if you have any of these symptoms:

  • You feel pain or burning when you urinate.
  • You feel like you have to urinate often, but not much urine comes out when you do.
  • Your belly feels tender or heavy.
  • Your urine is cloudy or smells bad.
  • You have pain on one side of your back under your ribs. This is where your kidneys are.
  • You have fever and chills.
  • You have nausea and vomiting.

When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor if you have signs and symptoms like

  • You have a fever, nausea and vomiting, or pain in one side of your back under your ribs.
  • You have diabetes, kidney problems, or a weak immune system.
  • You are older than 65.
  • You are pregnant.

Causes

urine from your bladder to the outside of your body. The germs that usually cause these infections live in your large intestine and are found in your stool. If these germs get inside your urethra, they can travel up into your bladder and kidneys and cause an infection.

Women tend to get more bladder infections than men. This is probably because women have shorter urethras, so it is easier for the germs to move up to their bladders. Having sex can make it easier for germs to get into your urethra.

You may be more likely to get an infection if you do not drink enough fluids, you have diabetes, or you are pregnant. The chance that you will get a bladder infection is higher if you have any problem that blocks the flow of urine from your bladder. Examples include having kidney stones or an enlarged prostate gland.

For reasons that are not well understood, some women get bladder infections again and again.

Treatment & Drugs

Doctors typically use antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections. Which drugs are prescribed and for how long depend on your health condition and the type of bacterium found in your urine.

  • Simple infection
  • Drugs commonly recommended for simple UTIs include:
  • Sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim (Bactrim, Septra, others)
  • Amoxicillin (Amoxil, Augmentin, others)
  • Nitrofurantoin (Furadantin, Macrodantin, others)
  • Ampicillin
  • Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
  • Levofloxacin (Levaquin)

Usually, symptoms clear up within a few days of treatment. But you may need to continue antibiotics for a week or more. Take the entire course of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor to ensure that the infection is completely gone.

For an uncomplicated UTI that occurs when you're otherwise healthy, your doctor may recommend a shorter course of treatment, such as taking an antibiotic for one to three days. But whether this short course of treatment is adequate to treat your infection depends on your particular symptoms and medical history.

Lifestyle & Home Remedies

Urinary tract infections can be painful, but you can take steps to ease your discomfort until antibiotics clear the infection. Follow these tips:

Drink plenty of water to dilute your urine and help flush out bacteria.

Avoid drinks that may irritate your bladder. Avoid coffee, alcohol, and soft drinks containing citrus juices and caffeine until your infection has cleared. They can irritate your bladder and tend to aggravate your frequent or urgent need to urinate.

Use a heating pad. Apply a warm, but not hot, heating pad to your abdomen to minimize bladder pressure or discomfort.


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