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Patient education: Urinary tract infections in adults (The Basics)

Patient education: Urinary tract infections in adults (The Basics)

What is the urinary tract? — The urinary tract is the group of organs in the body that handle urine (figure 1). The urinary tract includes the:

Kidneys – These are 2 bean-shaped organs that filter the blood to make urine.

Bladder – This is a balloon-shaped organ that stores urine.

Ureters – These are 2 tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

Urethra – This is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

What are urinary tract infections? — Urinary tract infections, also called "UTIs," are infections that affect either the bladder or the kidneys:

Bladder infections are more common than kidney infections. They happen when bacteria get into the urethra and travel up into the bladder. The medical term for bladder infection is "cystitis."

Kidney infections happen when the bacteria travel even higher, up into the kidneys. The medical term for kidney infection is "pyelonephritis."

Both bladder and kidney infections are more common in females than in males.

The risk of UTIs is also higher in people who have a urinary catheter. A catheter is a thin, flexible tube that drains urine from the bladder. It might be used in people who are in the hospital and cannot urinate in the normal way.

What are the symptoms of a bladder infection? — The symptoms include:

Pain or a burning feeling when you urinate

The need to urinate often

The need to urinate suddenly or in a hurry

Blood in the urine

What are the symptoms of a kidney infection? — The symptoms of a kidney infection can include the symptoms of a bladder infection, but kidney infections can also cause:


Back pain

Nausea or vomiting

How do I find out if I have a urinary tract infection? — If you think you might have a urinary tract infection, call your doctor or nurse. Sometimes, they can tell if you have a urinary tract infection just by learning about your symptoms.

Your doctor or nurse might do a simple urine test. If they think you might have a kidney infection or are unsure what is causing your symptoms, they might also do a more involved urine test to check for bacteria.

How are urinary tract infections treated? — Most urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotic pills. These pills work by killing the germs that cause the infection.

If you have a bladder infection, you will probably need to take antibiotics for 3 to 7 days. If you have a kidney infection, you will probably need to take antibiotics for longer – maybe for up to 2 weeks. If you have a kidney infection, it's also possible you will need to be treated in the hospital.

Your symptoms should begin to improve within a day of starting antibiotics. But you should finish all the antibiotic pills you get. Otherwise your infection might come back.

If needed, you can also take a medicine to numb your bladder. This medicine eases the pain caused by urinary tract infections. It also reduces the need to urinate.

What if I get bladder infections a lot? — First, check with your doctor or nurse to make sure that you are really having bladder infections. The symptoms of bladder infection can be caused by other things. Your doctor or nurse will want to see if those problems might be causing your symptoms.

But if you are really dealing with repeated infections, there are things you can do to keep from getting more infections. These include:

Drinking more fluid – This can help prevent bladder infections.

Vaginal estrogen – If you are a female who has already been through menopause, your doctor might suggest this. Vaginal estrogen comes in a cream or a flexible ring that you put into your vagina. It can help prevent bladder infections.

Other things that might help include:

Avoiding spermicides (sperm-killing creams or gels) – Spermicide is a form of birth control. It seems to increase the risk of bladder infections in some females, especially when used with a diaphragm. If you use spermicide and get a lot of bladder infections, you might want to try switching to a different form of birth control.

Urinating right after sex – Some doctors think this helps, because it helps flush out germs that might get into the bladder during sex. There is no proof it works, but it also cannot hurt.

If you get a lot of bladder infections, and the above methods have not helped, your doctor might give you antibiotics to help prevent infection. But long-term use of antibiotics has downsides, so doctors usually suggest trying other things first.

Can cranberry juice or other products prevent bladder infections? — People often wonder about "natural" products that claim to help prevent bladder infections. These include cranberry juice and other cranberry products, probiotics, vitamin C, and D-mannose. There is not good evidence that these things work. However, there is also no clear evidence that they are harmful. If you have questions about these or other products, talk with your doctor or nurse.

More on this topic

Patient education: Urinary tract infections in pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Blood in the urine (hematuria) in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Asymptomatic bacteriuria (The Basics)

Patient education: Urinary tract infections in adolescents and adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Urinary tract infections in children (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 02, 2023.
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