Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Most urinary tract infections start in the lower urinary tract, which is made up of the urethra and bladder. Bacteria from the bowel live on the skin near the anus or in the vagina. These bacteria can spread and enter the urinary tract through the urethra. If they move up the urethra, they may cause a bladder infection (called cystitis). Bacteria that have infected the bladder may travel to the upper urinary tract, the ureters and the kidneys. An infection of the kidneys is called pyelonephritis. An upper urinary tract infection may cause a more severe illness than a lower urinary tract infection.

Women are more likely than men to get UTIs because the urethra is shorter in a woman than in a man. In women, the bacteria can reach the bladder more easily.


Women’s anatomy makes them prone to getting UTIs after having sex. The opening of the urethra is in front of the vagina, and bacteria near the vagina can get into the urethra from contact during sex. UTIs also tend to occur in women when they begin having sex or have it more often. Using spermicides or a diaphragm also can cause more frequent UTIs.

Infections also can occur when the bladder does not empty completely. This condition may be caused by:

  • blockage (a stone) in the ureters, kidneys or bladder that prevents the flow of urine through the urinary tract
  • a narrowed tube or a kink in the urinary tract
  • problems with the pelvic muscles or nerves

You are also more likely to get an infection if you:

  • have had a UTI before
  • have had several children
  • have diabetes
  • are obese
  • are menopausal

UTIs can occur during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and think you may have a UTI, be sure to tell us promptly. If untreated, it may cause problems for you and your baby.


One sign is a strong urge to urinate that cannot be delayed. As urine flows, a sharp pain or burning, called dysuria, is felt in the urethra. The urge to urinate then returns minutes later. Soreness may be felt in the lower abdomen, in the back or in the sides.

Other signs may show up in the urine. It may have a strong odor, look cloudy or sometimes be tinged with blood. Blood in the urine also may be caused by other problems. Tell us if you see blood in your urine.

If the bacteria enter the ureters and spread to the kidneys, symptoms also may include back pain, chills, fever, nausea and vomiting. If you have any of these symptoms, tell us right away. Kidney infections are serious and must be treated promptly.


We will first do a simple test, called urinalysis, to find out whether you have a UTI. For this test, you will be asked to provide a urine sample.


Antibiotics are used to treat UTIs. Treatment is usually quick and effective. Most symptoms go away in one to two days. Be sure to take all the medication even though your symptoms may go away before you finish your prescription. If you stop early, the infection may still be present or could come back.


There are a number of ways to prevent UTIs:

  • After a bowel movement or after urinating, wipe from front to back.
  • Wash the skin around the anus and the genital area.
  • Avoid using douches, powder and deodorant sprays.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (including water) to flush bacteria out of your urinary system.
  • Empty your bladder as soon as you feel the urge or about every two to three hours.
  • Try to empty your bladder before and after sex.
  • Wear cotton underwear.

Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.