What Are the Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?

Urine analysis. General practice doctor placing a multiple test stick (Multistix) into a urine sample. The test stick will be immersed in the sample for a specific amount of time. It will then be removed and the test stick's pads checked against a reference chart. Each pad tests for the presence (colour change) and/or quantity (colour intensity) of blood (haematuria), protein (kidney disease) and glucose (diabetes), and for urinary tract infections and cystitis (inflammation of the bladder). IAN HOOTON / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)  aren't sexually transmitted diseases. However, they are often mistaken for them. That's true for several reasons. First, although UTIs aren't transmitted sexually, they are associated with sexual behavior. Second, the symptoms of a UTI are similar to those of many STDs. Therefore, when they show up after sex, it's easy to understand why someone might think they were sexually transmitted...

instead of just sexually associated.

Symptoms of UTIs in Women

Urinary tract infections are incredibly common in adult women. Between 50 and 85 percent of women will have at least one acute UTI. Furthermore, up to 40 percent of those will have another infection within 3 months. In fact, on average, women have 2-3 UTIs every year! As such, the symptoms of a UTI quickly become familiar. They include:

  • pain during urination (dysuria)
  • a need to urinate more frequently
  • an urgent need to urinate
  • a feeling that you can't entirely empty your bladder
  • difficulty urinating
  • hesitancy about urinating

Not all women have all of these symptoms. However, most women will have similar symptoms from episode to episode if they have recurrent infections.

There isn't just physical discomfort associated with a UTI There may also be visible signs. Some women will have urine that is visibly pink or cloudy. This may be noticeable either in the toilet or on their toilet paper as they wipe.

Symptoms of UTIs in Men

Urinary tract infections are relatively uncommon in adult men, except under specific circumstances. For example, a UTI is more common after or during the use of a catheter. This is because the structure of the male urinary tract does not leave men as vulnerable to these infections.

When infections due occur, however, symptoms in men include:

  • increased frequency of urination
  • pain or discomfort during urination
  • an urgent need to urinate
  • fever
  • pain in the flanks (the sides of the abdomen, between ribs and hips)

UTIs are more common in older men. They are also seen more often in men who have:

  • experienced some sort of damage or trauma to the urinary tract,
  • congenital malformations of the urethra,
  • a genitourinary blockage or cancer.

Reducing the Risk That You Will Have Another UTI

Research is inconsistent about what women can do to prevent UTIs. However, good urinary hygiene is always a good idea. This includes:

  • Drinking sufficient water
  • Wiping from front to back
  • Changing your underwear daily
  • Peeing after sex

In addition, there is some evidence that several natural therapies may be able to prevent, or reduce the frequency of UTIs. The data for these interventions is mixed. However, they are unlikely to cause any harm, even if they will not always help.

  • Taking cranberry products to acidify the urine and reduce bacterial adhesion (pills/drinks)
  • Using vaginal probiotics (i.e. lactobacillus suppositories) to help maintain the normal vaginal flora

If You Think You Have a UTI

If you are experiencing UTI symptoms, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor. It's important to get proper treatment for these infections, so that they don't become more serious. In addition, since the symptoms of a UTI are similar to those of many STDs, you may need to be tested for other infections.

Sources:

den Heijer CD, van Dongen MC, Donker GA, Stobberingh EE. Diagnostic approach to urinary tract infections in male general practice patients: a national surveillance study. Br J Gen Pract. 2012 Nov;62(604):e780-6<

Guay DR. Cranberry and urinary tract infections. Drugs. 2009;69(7):775-807.

Gupta K, Trautner BW. Diagnosis and management of recurrent urinary tract infections in non-pregnant women. BMJ. 2013 May 29;346:f3140.<

Wagenlehner FM, Vahlensieck W, Bauer HW, Weidner W, Piechota HJ, Naber KG. Prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections. Minerva Urol Nefrol. 2013 Mar;65(1):9-20.

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