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What Are Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)?
Urinary tract infections are a serious health condition affecting millions of people each year. Infections of the urinary tract are the second most common type of infection in the body. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) account for about 8.3 million doctor visits each year.1 UTIs are more common in women than in men. 1 out of 5 woman develop a UTI during her lifetime. Burning urine and the constant need to urinate is a good indication that you either have a urinary tract or bladder infection, and many people suffer from chronically recurrent infections and inflammations.
What Causes a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
Normally, urine is sterile. It is usually free of viruses, bacteria, and fungi and contains healthy amounts of fluids, salts, and waste products. An infection occurs when tiny organisms, usually bacteria from the digestive tract, cling to the opening of the urethra and begin to multiply. Most infections arise from one type of bacteria, Escherichia coli (E. coli), which normally lives in the colon.
What Are the Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infection?
The most common symptoms associated with an acute urinary tract infection (UTI) are fever, possibly chills, burning urine, pain in the back or lower abdomen, an urgent need to urinate frequently, and in some cases, irritability and night sweats. Western medicine treatments for UTIs usually include antibiotics, but in some cases, as soon as a person gets rid of one infection with antibiotics, another one sets in. This cycle can be repeated over and over, causing other problems from the side effects of the drugs.
What Does the Urinary Tract Do?
The human urinary system consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The key parts of the urinary system are the kidneys, located below the ribs and toward the middle of the back. The kidneys remove excess liquid and wastes from the blood in the form of urine. They also work to keep a stable balance of salts and other substances in the blood, and produce a hormone that aids the formation of red blood cells. The Ureters (narrow tubes) carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder, a sack-like organ in the lower abdomen. Urine is stored in the bladder and emptied through the urethra. The average adult passes about a quart and a half of urine each day. The amount of urine varies, depending on the fluids and foods a person consumes and the volume formed at night is about half that formed in the daytime.
Are There Alternative Approaches to Urinary Tract Health?*
According to practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the underlying pattern associated with chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs) is usually kidney yin deficiency. A urinary bladder imbalance can be associated with disharmony in the kidneys because a deficiency in the urinary bladder is typically related to a deficiency in the kidneys. TCM practitioners work to restore balance and harmony by supporting a person's body and organs with diet, stress reduction, and herbal supplementation rather than focusing on treating symptoms of a UTI. When balance and harmony are restored, TCM practitioners believe the immune and urinary system has a greater chance of naturally healing itself.*
How to Promote Urinary Tract Health?
One way to promote urinary, bladder and kidney health is to remove substances that irritate the bladder and urinary system. Some commonly known bladder irritants that people consume include coffee, tea, chocolate, alcoholic beverages, and acidic foods like oranges, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mango, pineapple, tomatoes, spicy foods, sugar, honey, milk. Stress reduction is always an important step for anyone with a health challenge. The next step in promoting urinary health is to incorporate natural dietary supplements designed to restore balance and harmony.*
Since our bladders are susceptible to a variety of ailments, ranging from infections to over-activity to cancer, experts agree that undertaking a proactive, not reactive, approach to health leads to fewer difficulties down the road.*
1. Ambulatory Care Visits to Physician Offices, Hospital Outpatient Departments, and Emergency Departments: United States, 9900. Vital and Health Statistics. Series 13, No. 157. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services; September 04.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) in Children
What are urinary tract infections?
A urinary tract infection is a common infection that is caused by bacteria in parts of the urinary tract, such as the kidneys, bladder, or urethra. Women are more likely to get urinary tract infections than men are.
What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?
Not everyone with a urinary tract infection has symptoms, but most people have at least some symptoms. Signs of a urinary tract infection include:
- Pain or stinging when urinating
- Needing to urinate often or really badly
- Urine that smells bad or looks milky, cloudy, or reddish in color
- Pain in the lower belly (abdomen)
- Feeling tired, shaky or having a fever
Are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection different for children?
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection are often harder to recognize in children.
If a child is irritable, is not eating normally, has an unexplained fever that doesn't go away, has incontinence or loose bowels, or is not thriving, then he or she may have a urinary tract infection. The child should see a health care provider immediately.
What is the treatment for a urinary tract infection?
Urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotics to get rid of the infection. Pregnant women with urinary tract infections are more likely to get kidney infections and so quick treatment is especially important for these women. If you are pregnant and think you have a urinary tract infection, see your health care provider as soon as possible.
How can I prevent a urinary tract infection?
There are some things women can do to make it less likely they will get urinary tract infections, especially if they get them often.
- Drink plenty of water every day.
- Urinate when you need to, don't hold it in.
- Wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from entering the vagina or urethra.
- Avoid use of feminine hygiene sprays or douches.
- If you get a lot of urinary tract infections and use spermicides or creams that kill sperm, talk to your health care provider about using other forms of birth control.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) Frequently Asked Questions for Women
- What is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
- What causes Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)?
- What are the signs of a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
- How does a doctor find out if I have a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?
- How is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) treated?
- Will a UTI hurt my kidneys?
- How can I keep from getting Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)?
- I get UTIs a lot. Can my doctor do something to help?
- For More Information
"It was a normal day at work, but I was tired and felt like I had to pass urine the whole day. But when I went to the bathroom, not much came out. When I did pass urine, it burned and smelled bad and looked cloudy too. These problems lasted a few days. So I called my doctor, and she said it sounded like a Urinary Tract Infection, or UTI. I went to her office, and she asked me to pass urine into a cup. She tested the urine and told me I had a UTI. She called my drug store and ordered pills for me. I took all of the pills she prescribed, and then the UTI and the symptoms were gone."
A UTI is an infection anywhere in the urinary tract. The urinary tract makes and stores urine and removes it from the body. Parts of the urinary tract include:
- Kidneys collect waste from blood to make urine
- Ureters (YOOR-uh-turz) carry the urine from the kidneys to the bladder
- Bladder stores urine until it is full
- Urethra (yoo-REE-thruh) is a short tube that carries urine from the bladder out of your body when you pass urine
Bacteria (bak-TIHR-ee-uh), a type of germ that gets into your urinary tract, cause a UTI. This can happen in many ways:
- Wiping from back to front after a bowel movement (BM). Germs can get into your urethra, which has its opening in front of the vagina (vuh-JEYE-nuh).
- Having sexual intercourse. Germs in the vagina can be pushed into the urethra.
- Waiting too long to pass urine. When urine stays in the bladder for a long time, more germs are made, and the worse a UTI can become.
- Using a diaphragm (DEYE-uh-fram) for birth control, or spermicides (creams that kill sperm) with a diaphragm or on a condom. To read more about diaphragms, go to http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/diaphragm-cervical-cap-shield-4244.htm.
- Anything that makes it hard to completely empty your bladder, like a kidney stone.
- Having diabetes, which makes it harder for your body to fight other health problems.
- Loss of estrogen (ESS-truh-juhn) (a hormone) and changes in the vagina after menopause. Menopause is when you stop getting your period.
- Having had a catheter (KATH-uh-tur) in place. A catheter is a thin tube put through the urethra into the bladder. It's used to drain urine during a medical test and for people who cannot pass urine on their own.
If you have an infection, you may have some or all of these signs:
- Pain or stinging when you pass urine.
- An urge to pass urine a lot, but not much comes out when you go.
- Pressure in your lower belly.
- Urine that smells bad or looks milky, cloudy, or reddish in color. If you see blood in your urine, tell a doctor right away.
- Feeling tired or shaky or having a fever.
To find out if you have a UTI, your doctor will need to test a clean sample of your urine. The doctor or nurse will give you a clean plastic cup and a special wipe. Wash your hands before opening the cup. When you open the cup, don't touch the inside of the lid or inside of the cup. Put the cup in easy reach. Separate the labia, the outer lips of the vagina, with one hand. With your other hand, clean the genital area with the wipe. Wipe from front to back. Do not touch or wipe the anus. While still holding the labia open, pass a little bit of urine into the toilet. Then, catch the rest in the cup. This is called a "clean-catch" sample. Let the rest of the urine fall into the toilet.
If you are prone to UTIs, your doctor may want to take pictures of your urinary tract with an x-ray or ultrasound. These pictures can show swelling, stones, or blockage. Your doctor also may want to look inside your bladder using a cystoscope (SISS-tuh-skohp). It is a small tube that's put into the urethra to see inside of the urethra and bladder.
UTIs are treated with antibiotics (an-tuh-beye-OT-iks), medicines that kill the bacteria that cause the infection. Your doctor will tell you how long you need to take the medicine. Make sure you take all of your medicine, even if you feel better! Many women feel better in one or two days.
If you don't take medicine for a UTI, the UTI can hurt other parts of your body. Also, if you're pregnant and have signs of a UTI, see your doctor right away. A UTI could cause problems in your pregnancy, such as having your baby too early or getting high blood pressure. Also, UTIs in pregnant women are more likely to travel to the kidneys.
If treated right away, a UTI is not likely to damage your kidneys or urinary tract. But UTIs that are not treated can cause serious problemsin your kidneys and the rest of your body.
These are steps you can take to try to prevent a UTI. But you may follow these steps and still get a UTI. If you have symptoms of a UTI, call your doctor.
- Urinate when you need to. Don't hold it. Pass urine before and after sex. After you pass urine or have a bowel movement (BM), wipe from front to back.
- Drink water every day and after sex. Try for 6 to 8 glasses a day.
- Clean the outer lips of your vagina and anus each day. The anus is the place where a bowel movement leaves your body, located between the buttocks.
- Don't use douches or feminine hygiene sprays.
- If you get a lot of UTIs and use spermicides, or creams that kill sperm, talk to your doctor about using other forms of birth control.
- Wear underpants with a cotton crotch. Don't wear tight-fitting pants, which can trap in moisture.
- Take showers instead of tub baths.
About one in five women who get UTIs will get another one. Some women get three or more UTIs a year. If you are prone to UTIs, ask your doctor about your treatment options. Your doctor may ask you to take a small dose of medicine every day to prevent infection. Or, your doctor might give you a supply of antibiotics to take after sex or at the first sign of infection. Dipsticks can help test for UTIs at home. They are useful for some women with repeat UTIs. Ask your doctor if you should use dipsticks at home to test for UTI.Your doctor may also want to do special tests to see what is causing repeat infections. Ask about them.
For more Information on Urinary Tract Infections
For more information on urinary tract infections, please call womenshealth.gov at 1-800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, NIH
Phone number: (800) 891-5390
Internet address: http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Resource Center
Phone number: (202) 638-5577
Internet address: http://www.acog.org
American Urogynecologic Society
Internet address: http://www.augs.org
American Urological Association
Phone number: (866) 746-4282
Internet address: http://www.urologyhealth.org
All material contained in the FAQs is free of copyright restrictions, and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services; citation of the sources is appreciated.
This FAQ was reviewed by:
Magda Barini-García, MD, MPH
Senior Medical Advisor
Center for Quality
Health Resources and Services Administration
Kristene Whitmore, MD
Director, Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute