Urinary Tract Infection - UTI Symptoms and Treatments


What is a UTI or urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is precisely what it sounds like: an infection of one or more parts of your urinary system. The urinary system includes all of the organs in your body that maintain fluid balance and eliminate liquid waste. It includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. 

While any part of the urinary tract can become infected, UTIs most commonly occur in the urethra and bladder. They are also known as bladder infections. If not treated, the infection can spread to the ureters and kidneys and become a more severe condition known as pyelonephritis.

Pathophysiology of Urinary Tract Infection and Risk Factors

Urinary tract infections occur when a pathogen, usually bacteria, gets into your urinary system. Typically they enter through the urethra and migrate up this tube-shaped structure to your bladder. Because of this, urinary tract infection risk factors include: 

  • Female gender - the proximity of the urethra to the vagina and anus makes bacteria transfer in this area easy. 
  • Sexual activity - movement and contact during intercourse can facilitate the spread of bacteria to the urethral opening. 
  • Post-menopausal age - hormone changes that occur during menopause make the urinary tract less resistant to infection.
  • Contraception use - hormonal birth control can cause changes in estrogen levels that make the urinary tract more susceptible to infection.
  • Immunocompromised status - reduced body’s ability to fight infection makes infection more likely.
  • Catheter use - foreign objects in the urinary tract provide a conduit for bacteria to enter the urethra and bladder.

UTI Symptoms

If you have had or are currently experiencing a UTI, chances are you know how uncomfortable this condition can be. Common symptoms that indicate you be suffering from a UTI are: 

  • Urinary urgency 
  • Pain on urination
  • Blood in urine or discolored urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Lower back pain
  • Fever

In some populations, UTIs present in an atypical fashion. Urinary tract infections in the elderly may have nonspecific symptoms like fatigue and confusion. Pediatric urinary tract infections often have the hallmarks listed above in older children. In infants and toddlers, UTIs can present as general malaise, fussiness, decreased appetite, and fever.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should contact a doctor as soon as possible. An untreated UTI can result in pyelonephritis. Urinary tract infection sepsis can also occur if left unchecked for a prolonged time.

UTI Diagnosis

Diagnosis of urinary tract infections usually involves a urinalysis. Your doctor will have you provide a clean catch sample. They will then look at it under a microscope for leukocytes (white blood cells), erythrocytes (red blood cells), and bacteria. 

If you experience recurrent UTIs, your physician may order a urine culture. Any bacteria or other pathogens present will be allowed to grow for identification. This will let your doctor better choose the most effective medication to prescribe.

In rare situations where structural abnormalities are suspected to be a contributing factor, your doctor may recommend imaging your urinary tract. This can be by ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), with or without contrast dye. A scope can also be used to visualize your urethra and bladder.

If you can’t see a doctor right away, home urinary tract infection test strips can help diagnose your symptoms. These tests usually detect the presence of white blood cells and nitrite, a byproduct of bacteria, in your urine. You should not rely on the results of these tests and should confirm your findings with a physician.

UTI Treatment

At-Home Care

Given the unpleasant symptoms, most people want to begin UTI treatment as soon as possible. See one of our online providers now to get on the road to recovery. Or, schedule an appointment and, in the meantime, try some of the following remedies.

Over the counter urinary tract infection medicine is not usually effective in resolving UTIs but can help treat your symptoms. Phenazopyridine (Pyridium, Azo) is a urinary tract infection pain medication. It can help to relieve pain on urination and the urge to empty your bladder constantly. 

Drinking plenty of fluids can help to flush bacteria and pathogens out of your bladder and urethra. A well-known remedy is cranberry juice for urinary tract infections. Compounds in cranberries may help to prevent bacteria from adhering to your urinary tract, although the science backing this is mixed. But, drinking cranberry juice that is unsweetened carries little risk and will at least help keep you well hydrated. 

Medical Treatment

Although you may be feeling better after at-home treatment and wondering if a urinary tract infection can go away on its own, the answer is usually no. Because of the potential for the infection to spread if left untreated, you should seek treatment as soon as possible.

If you have a UTI, your doctor will probably prescribe an antibiotic to treat the causative bacteria. The best antibiotic for urinary tract infections depends on the pathogen responsible, history of previous UTIs, and patient allergies. The most common prescriptions for urinary tract infections are nitrofurantoin (Macrobid), trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim or Septra), and ciprofloxacin (Cipro). 

In the case of a simple infection, the standard treatment is a short course of antibiotics. In the case of a recurrent or complicated urinary tract infection, long-term antibiotics may be necessary. In the case of known triggers, such as frequent urinary tract infections after sex, prophylactic antibiotics can be helpful.


Preventing UTIs

While suffering the uncomfortable symptoms, one of your first questions may be how long does a urinary tract infection last? In most cases, the good news is that relief is noticeable within a day or two of beginning antibiotic treatment. If you have a complicated urinary tract infection or one that has spread to your kidneys, recovery can take weeks. However, most promptly and adequately treated UTIs have a positive and quick resolution. 

Potential complications of urinary tract infections include systemic infection if left untreated and urinary tract damage and remodeling. To prevent these, see one of our doctors available online now and start feeling better today!

Our board certified doctors can treat a wide variety of medical conditions through SkyMD®. Common conditions that can be diagnosed and treated through our online platform include but are not limited to:

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