What I need to know about Urinary Tract Infections

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

A UTI is an infection anywhere in the urinary tract. Your urinary tract includes the organs that collect and store urine and release it from your body. They are the

What causes a UTI?

Usually, a UTI is caused by bacteria that can also live in the digestive tract, in the vagina, or around the urethra, which is at the entrance to the urinary tract. Most often these bacteria enter the urethra and travel to the bladder and kidneys. Usually, your body removes the bacteria, and you have no symptoms. However, some people-including women and older people of both sexes-seem to be prone to infection.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor if you have any of these signs or symptoms:

Women are more likely to get UTIs than men. When men get UTIs, however, they're often serious and hard to treat. UTIs can be especially dangerous for older people and pregnant women, as well as for those with diabetes and those who have difficulty urinating.

What will happen at the doctor's office?

The health care provider may ask you how much fluid you drink, and if you have pain or a burning feeling when you urinate, or if you have difficulty urinating. Women may be asked about the type of birth control they use. You'll need to urinate into a cup so the urine can be tested. In addition, your doctor may need to take pictures of your kidneys with an x ray or ultrasound and look into your bladder with an instrument called a cystoscope.

How are UTIs treated?

Once it is determined that your symptoms have been caused by an infection, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria causing the infection. The antibiotic prescribed will depend on the type of bacteria found.

For simple infections, you'll be given 3 days of therapy. For more serious infections, you'll be given a prescription for 7 days or longer. Be sure to follow your instructions carefully and completely. If you have any allergies to drugs, be sure your doctor knows what they are.

Will UTIs come back?

Most healthy women don't have repeat infections. However, about one out of every five women who get a UTI will get another one. Some women get three or more UTIs a year. Men frequently get repeat infections. Anyone who has diabetes or a problem that makes it difficult to urinate may get repeat infections.

If you get repeat infections, talk with your doctor about special treatment plans. Your doctor may refer you to a urologist, a doctor who specializes in urinary problems. Your doctor may have you take antibiotics over a longer period to help prevent repeat infections. Some doctors give patients who get frequent UTIs a supply of antibiotics to be taken at the first sign of infection. Make sure you understand and follow the instructions your doctor gives you.

Men may need to take antibiotics for a longer time. Bacteria can hide deep in prostate tissue. Men shouldn't take their spouse's pills and think they will cure the infection. See a doctor for treatment that fits your needs.

How can I prevent more UTIs?

Changing some of your daily habits may help you avoid UTIs.