So you have a urinary tract infection

What is it like?


You should talk to your doctor about any symptoms of a urinary tract infection. The bacteria can carry the infection upstream, up your urinary tract.

If it's in your bladder

  • It hurts to pee. It may burn.
  • You have the urge to pee a lot, even when your bladder is empty
  • It feels like you can't empty your bladder
  • You have a fever
  • Your urine smells funny
  • Your urine is cloudy or has a little blood in it
  • You feel cramping or pain near your bladder, or even your lower back

The infection may spread to kidneys, you may have 

  • Pain in your back, usually on one side below the ribs.
  • Fever, maybe over 101.4
  • Tiredness
  • Just generally feeling unwell
  • Chills, shaking episodes, night sweats
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting, feeling like you will throw up
  • Pain traveling from your back to your groin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness
  • Flushing, red with fever

It can also spread to your blood. This may cause:

  • Shaking chills
  • Feeling very cold
  • Fever

Infections in your blood can be very dangerous and can travel to other parts of your body. It is important you seek medical care immediately if you develop high fevers, shaking chills, light headedness, weakness, severe back pain, or inability to urinate with a urinary tract infection. The infection should be treated.

The elderly may only experience confusion and not report other symptoms or show other signs.

It burns. It hurts.


Millions have urinary tract infections (UTIs) each year. UTIs account for 8 million doctor visits each year in the US. Almost half of women will report a urinary tract infection in their lifetime.

It can be a real pain, but treatment is often quick and painless. Most take antibiotics prescribed by their doctor for a few days and get better.

Find out what you need to do to take care of yourself.

What happens next?


Symptoms usually identify a urinary tract infection. Your doctor or nurse can confirm a urinary tract infection by doing a urine test - which may show bacteria, white blood cells, or nitrates in the urine identifying an infection. This test is often immediate and done with a dipstick in the office.

A urine culture may also be done, which can show which bacteria you might have and identify which antibiotics are best. The test can show which antibiotics the bacteria is susceptible to - it which antibiotics will work. This test may take a few days for results to come back.

The infection is usually treated with antibiotics that your doctor or healthcare provider can prescribe. Talk to your doctor about how quickly you expect to start feeling better. It may take 24 hours before you feel a big difference. 

​Drink plenty of water - if you don't have any health problems that limit your water intake.

How did I get this?


Urinary Tract Infections are usually caused when bacteria from your intestines end up in your urethra and climb up your urinary tract. This is especially a problem for women who have less distance for the bugs to travel.

Most urinary tract infections are caused by one bacteria common in our intestines - Escherichia coli. Other bacteria can be responsible such as Staphylococcus saprophyticus, ProteusKlebsiella, and Enterococcus. Even more types may be to blame if the infection is acquired in the hospital.

What if the antibiotics don't work?


Urinary tract infections are becoming increasingly "drug resistant". The antibiotics we used to expect to work aren't working like the used to. More and more bacteria are collecting ways to resist antibiotics that used to stop them. This is in part because of the large amounts of antibiotics used on farms. It is also because of the use of antibiotics for patients - we often give more antibiotics when we shouldn't. The more bacteria "see" antibiotics, the more likely they will pick up ways to avoid them.

If you are getting worse or aren't getting better on the antibiotics (especially after 24 hours or so) if you did not have culture or sensitivities, go back to your doctor. You may need a new antibiotic.

Who gets these infections?


Women have more urinary tract infections. They have shorter urethras - and less distance for bacteria to travel. Sexual activity increases the chance of infection, as does menopause. Some forms of birth control, such as spermicides, also increase the risk.

Blocked urinary streams from enlarged prostates or kidney stones don't let urine pass. Bacteria can be trapped with the urine.

Urinary catheters allow bacteria to enter. "Foreign bodies" are often prone to infection. This can occur in people who are hospitalized, those who are paralyzed or who have Multiple Sclerosis.

Diabetes causes an increased risk of infection

Weakened Immune System make it harder to fight any infection 

Abnormal Urinary Tracts Children sometimes have infections because of reflux of urine that travels back towards the kidneys. A doctor may check for this with a child who has a UTI.

What other problems are there?


The further up the infection, the more serious it is. Urinary tract infections can infect different parts of the urinary tract.

Inflammation (and infection) of

  • urethra is urethritis
  • bladder is cystitis
  • prostate is prostatitis
  • kidneys is pyelonephritis

Infections can also seep into the blood and can cause sepsis which is more serious.

There should be more concern about a kidney infection, an infection with an enlarged prostate affecting urination, or a blood infection. 

Urinary tract infections can also be of a problem in pregnancy. They can lead to lower birth weight or premature babies.

Infections may be missed in the elderly or children. In the elderly they may only cause confusion, rather than anything specific, and then may go on to cause a more severe infection.  In children, there is sometimes scarring of kidneys if infections are chronic or recurrent and unnoticed. 

Some people, especially women (or men with enlarged prostates or who use catheters), may have infection after infection. It can be hard to prevent recurrent infections for some and a doctor should help with this.

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