Pelvic Floor Disorders Program
Women's Medicine Collaborative

Information and Treatment for a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

What Are Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)?

A urinary tract infection is a very common health problem that affects millions of people each year. Women are more likely than men to develop urinary tract infections.

What Causes Urinary Tract Infections?

Normal urine contains fluids, salts, and waste products. Usually it is free of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, but it may contain them without causing symptoms. An infection occurs when microorganisms, usually bacteria from the digestive tract, cling to the opening of the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body) and produce symptoms. Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, which normally live in the colon, cause most urinary tract infections.

What Are the Different Types of Urinary Tract Infections?

A UTI may involve different sections of the tract. Urethritis affects just the urethra, the tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. When the bladder is involved, the infection is called cystitis. A UTI in the kidneys is pyelonephritis, usually stemming from a bacterial infection in the bladder that has moved up from the urethra.

What Are the Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection?

The most common symptoms of a urinary tract infection are:

  • frequent and urgent painful urination
  • cloudy urine
  • blood in the urine
  • lower abdominal pain, cramps, pain in the back or side

When the infection is more severe, it can cause fever or fatigue, nausea or vomiting.

However, each person may experience symptoms differently.

Since the symptoms of a urinary tract infection may resemble other conditions or medical problems, always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How Are UTIs Diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnosing a UTI will require a test called a urinalysis, a laboratory examination of urine for various cells and chemicals, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, bacteria, or excessive protein.

When infections are recurrent or complicated you might need:

  • imaging of your kidneys and bladder with ultrasound or a CT scan
  • cystoscopy (also called cystourethroscopy). For this examination, a scope – a thin, flexible tube and viewing device – is inserted through the urethra to examine the bladder and urinary tract for structural abnormalities or obstructions, such as tumors or stones.
  • a test to make sure you are emptying your bladder adequately

What Is the Treatment for a UTI?

UTIs are treated with antibacterial medications and other medications. A heating pad may help relieve pain. When infections are recurrent, your doctor may prescribe preventive steps, including behavior modification; drinking plenty of water to help cleanse the urinary tract of bacteria; avoiding coffee, alcohol, and spicy foods; taking vitamin C and cranberry supplements. Prevention might include taking oral medications. The Women’s Medicine Collaborative has specialists who can help.

Learn more about treatment for pelvic floor disorders at Lifespan