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
- Kidneys. Your kidneys collect wastes and extra water from your blood to make urine.
- Ureters. The ureters carry the urine from your kidneys to your bladder.
- Bladder. Your bladder stores the urine and squeezes it out when full.
- Prostate. The prostate adds fluid to semen.
- Urethra. The urethra carries the urine out of your bladder when you urinate.
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:
- burning feeling when you urinate
- frequent or intense urges to urinate, even when you have little urine to pass
- pain in your back or lower abdomen
- cloudy, dark, bloody, or unusual-smelling urine
- fever or chills
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.
Urine tests. Your urine will be checked with a microscope for bacteria and infection-fighting cells. The doctor may order a urine culture. In this test, bacteria from the urine are allowed to grow in a lab dish so the exact type of bacteria can be seen and the precise type of medicine you need can be chosen.
Images. The doctor may use either x rays, ultrasound, or a computerized tomography (CT) scan to view your bladder or kidneys. These pictures can show stones, blockage, or swelling.
Cystoscope. The urethra and bladder can be seen from the inside with a cystoscope, which is a thin tube with lenses like a microscope. The tube is inserted into the urinary tract through the urethra.
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.