Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

What are urinary tract infections?

Urinary tract infections or UTIs are infections in any part of the urinary tract. They are a common health problem that affects millions of people each year. Women are especially prone to UTIs.

A UTI may affect any part of the urinary tract causing:

  • Urethritis. This is an infection of the urethra. This is the hollow tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
  • Cystitis. This is an infection in the bladder from germs that have moved up from the urethra.
  • Pyelonephritis. This infection of the kidneys is most often a result of an infection that has spread up the urinary tract, or from a blockage in the urinary tract. A blockage causes urine to back up into the ureters and kidneys.
  • Abscess. A collection of pus along the course of the urinary tract is called an abscess.

What causes urinary tract infections?

Normal urine is sterile and contains fluids, salts, and waste products. It does not contain bacteria, viruses, or fungi. A UTI happens when germs, most often bacteria from the digestive tract, get into the opening of the urethra and start to multiply.

Most UTIs are caused by E. coli bacteria, which normally live in the colon.

What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?

These are the most common symptoms of a UTI:

  • Frequent urination
  • Pain or burning when passing urine
  • Fever
  • Urine looks dark, cloudy, or reddish in color. (Blood may be present in the urine.)
  • Urine smells bad
  • Feeling pain even when not urinating
  • Tiredness
  • Pain in the back or side, below the ribs
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Despite a strong urge to urinate, only a small amount of urine is passed
  • Women may feel an uncomfortable pressure above the pubic bone

The symptoms of a UTI may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are urinary tract infections diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your medical history and do a physical exam. Other tests may include:

  • Urinalysis. Lab testing of urine is done to check for various cells and chemicals, such as red and white blood cells, germs (like bacteria), or a lot of protein.
  • Urine culture. Lab is a test to grow potential bacteria found in the urine

If UTIs become a repeated problem, other tests may be used to see if the urinary tract is normal. These tests may include:

  • Cystoscopy. In this test, a thin, flexible tube and viewing device is put in through the urethra to examine the bladder and other parts of the urinary tract. Structural changes or blockages, such as tumors or stones can be found.
  • Kidney and bladder ultrasound. This imaging test uses high-frequency sound waves to make images of the bladder and the kidneys on a computer screen. The test is used to determine the size and shape of the bladder and the kidneys, and check for a mass, kidney stone(s), cysts, or other blockages or abnormalities.
  • CT scan. This is an imaging test that uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan shows details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs.