Authored by Revere Health

Urinary Tract Infection: Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

February 15, 2017 | Family Medicine

A urinary tract infection (UTI) refers to an infection in any part of the urinary system. Most infections, however, take place in the lower urinary tract, which includes the bladder and the urethra. In some cases, a UTI can spread beyond the bladder to other organs like the kidneys and be dangerous.

Fortunately, many of the causes and risk factors associated with urinary tract infections can be avoided with the right preventive measures.

Causes and Risk Factors

Most UTIs are caused by bacteria entering and multiplying in the bladder, and women are at a much higher risk. There are defenses in your urinary system designed to keep bacteria out, but they might not always function properly. If enough bacteria get in, it can cause an infection.

The two most common forms of UTI are categorized by the area they affect:

  • Cystitis: This is an infection of the bladder. It’s usually caused by E. coli, a very common bacteria found in food and the gastrointestinal tract. Other kinds of bacteria, or even sexual activity, can cause cystitis. The reason women are at higher risk is due to the shorter distance between the bladder, anus and urethra, making it easier for bacteria to enter.
  • Urethritis: This is an infection of the urethra, usually caused by bacteria spreading from the anus to the urethra. It can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs), especially in women.

Bacteria is the main cause of UTI, but there are several risk factors that can also impact your chances of getting a UTI. In women, some of these specific factors include:

  • Birth control: Diaphragms are a popular form of birth control, but may raise risk of UTIs. Spermicides may have a similar effect.
  • Sexual activity: Sexually active women are at higher risk, as are women who have just taken a new sexual partner.
  • Menopause: Once women have stopped monthly menstrual cycles, less estrogen in the urinary tract may cause more risk of infection.

More general risk factors for all people include:

  • Problems in the urinary tract: Blockages, kidney stones, enlarged prostate and various congenital conditions present at birth.
  • Catheter: This is for people who need help urinating, but it can cause UTIs in some cases.
  • Limited immune system: With limited ability to stop germs including bacteria, UTI risk goes up.
  • Previous procedure in the urinary tract, especially a recent one.


Symptoms and Complications

Symptoms of different UTIs can include:

  • Burning or pain while urinating
  • Urinating too often or too little, and often in small amounts
  • Cloudy, red or pink urine, signaling blood in the urine
  • Smelly urine
  • Pelvic pain in women

If not properly treated, a UTI can lead to some serious complications including:

  • Permanent kidney damage if bacteria spread
  • Problems in pregnancy for women
  • Recurring infections
  • Narrowing of the urethra
  • Sepsis – a complication of infection that can cause death, especially if it reaches the kidneys


Treatment and Prevention

Through a series of tests that analyze your urine or urinary tract, your doctor can determine if you have a UTI. For a single infection, he or she may use one of several medications, usually antibiotics, to treat it. In some cases, many symptoms will go away on their own. If you’re in pain while urinating, you may be prescribed a painkiller, called an analgesic, that numbs the bladder and urethra. In more serious cases, your doctor may recommend intravenous antibiotics in the hospital.

There are plenty of things you can do in daily life to help prevent the onset of a UTI. If you know you’re at high risk, a few steps you can take include:

  • Drink lots of water – Water dilutes urine and flushes bacteria more frequently.
  • Urinate soon after intercourse – This helps flush out bacteria that flourish during intercourse.
  • Avoid irritating feminine products.
  • Change birth control: Moving away from diaphragms and spermicides may help prevent UTIs.
  • Wiping: When wiping after urination or a bowel movement, wipe from front to back. This will stop bacteria in the anus from making their way to the urethra.
  • Avoid irritating drinks: Things like coffee, alcohol, sodas and citrus juices can irritate the bladder, causing infection.

Are you dealing with painful urination, or do you exhibit any of the other signs of a urinary tract infection? Speak with your doctor about a diagnosis and potential treatment options.


Revere Health Orem Family Medicine is devoted to comprehensive healthcare for patients of all ages. Our commitment is to provide thorough and timely health care for the entire family throughout all stages of life.



“Your Guide to Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs).” WebMD.

“Urinary tract infection (UTI).” The Mayo Clinic.


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