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Urinary Tract Infections: What You Should Know

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common in the U.S. In fact, they’re the second most common type of infection, and cause more than 8 million doctor’s visits each year. While most UTIs are not serious, if left untreated, they can lead to more serious problems such as kidney or bladder infections. But by knowing the signs, symptoms, and prevention for UTIs, you can protect your urologic health.

What is a UTI?

A UTI is an infection in any part of your urinary system, including your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. A UTI occurs when bacteria get into the urinary system and cause infection and inflammation. Most UTIs occur in the bladder and urethra. UTIs are more common in women than men—between 50% and 60% adult women will have at least one UTI in their lifetime. Around 3% of men get UTIs.


UTI symptoms vary from person to person, and sometimes there are no symptoms. A UTI causes the lining of the urinary tract to become red and irritated, which can cause symptoms such as:

  • A strong, persistent urge to urinate
  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Urinating frequently in small amounts
  • Urine that appears cloudy
  • Urine that appears red, bright pink, or brown
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Pelvic pain, especially in the center of the pelvis and around the area of the pubic bone
  • Pressure in the lower pelvis
  • Pain in the side, abdomen, or lower back
  • Pain during sex
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

Causes/Risk Factors

There are many causes for a UTI. Bacteria, specifically E. coli bacteria that live in the bowel, are the most common cause of UTIs. Fungi can also infect the urinary tract. These factors can encourage bacteria growth:

  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Purposely holding urine in for long periods
  • Injuries that cause difficulty emptying your bladder regularly and completely
  • Conditions that block the flow of urine such as a tumor, kidney stone, or enlarged prostate
  • Diabetes and other conditions that reduce the ability for your body to fight off infections
  • Using catheters
  • Hormonal changes in pregnant women that make it easier for bacteria to spread through the ureters and to the kidneys
  • Using certain forms of birth control, such as spermicides, diaphragms, and unlubricated condoms
  • Having female anatomy, due to the location and length of the urethra


When treated early and properly, UTIs rarely lead to complications. However, if left untreated, a UTI can lead to serious consequences such as:

  • Recurrent UTIs
  • Permanent kidney damage
  • Chronic kidney infection
  • Increased risk of delivering prematurely (for pregnant women)
  • Urethral narrowing in men
  • Sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of infection


Luckily, there are many things you can do to help prevent and reduce your risk of a UTI.

  • Stay hydrated. Drinking water helps dilute your urine and ensures you’ll urinate more frequently, causing any bacteria in your urinary tract to be flushed out before an infection begins.
  • Don’t hold it in. You should use the restroom as soon as you feel the urge to urinate. The more you urinate, the less chances there are for bacteria to cause infection.
  • Practice good hygiene. It’s important for women to wipe from front to back after a bowel movement. This reduces the risk of E. coli bacteria getting into the urinary tract.
  • Empty your bladder after sexual intercourse. During intercourse, bacteria can get into your urethra. Urinating afterwards helps flush out any bacteria before it can cause an infection.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing. Wearing looser clothing can help keep you dry, limiting bacterial growth. Wearing cotton underwear can also prevent extra moisture from getting trapped around your urethra.
  • Take showers instead of baths. Bacteria grow more quickly in warm and hot water, so sitting in a bath can introduce bacteria into your urinary tract. The soap in bubble baths can also irritate your urinary tract.

When to See Your Doctor

If you have any symptoms of a UTI, visit your Primary Care doctor. UTIs are usually treated with a short course of antibiotics, and symptoms will usually pass within three to five days of starting treatment.

If you get UTIs frequently (two times or more within six months or at least three times in a year), visit Frederick Health Urology. Our urologists provide specialized care for a wide range of urologic conditions.

Visit our website or contact us at 301-663-4774 to learn more.