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The Call-On-Doc Guide to Urinary Tract Infections

Published on Mar 27, 2023 | 10:10 AM

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For many, urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are just as uncomfortable to talk about as they feel. A 2022 study by BMC Women's Health showed women, in particular, face an uphill battle when dealing with these conditions. However, UTIs can be easily treated and patients can even get treatment prescribed online. Exhibited in that study and the patients we treat often comes a pronounced feeling of dread at UTIs. However, most of those same patients gain a sense of power when learning about the condition and how easy urinary tract infection treatments can be. 

Urinary tract infections are a common condition that can cause frequent and/or painful bathroom trips. While this can be worrisome, with treatment, both symptoms and relief can be provided.

Urinary tract infection symptoms in men vs. women

More often than not, urinary tract infections are more commonly associated with women. According to MedicalNewsToday, UTI cases in men contribute to 3% worldwide. That contrasts heavily when compared to women, who run a 50% to 60% chance of getting a UTI in their lifetime according to Therapeutic Advances in Urology Vol 11

In both cases, a person who has already contracted a urinary tract infection runs a varied risk of getting a second or recurring case. Whereas the probability for men is just slightly higher, a study by the Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal puts women at a significant chance. 

The difference in cases is primarily due to the difference in urethra length, with men’s being longer and women’s being much shorter. It's at this part of the body where most infections gain entry by starting out as microbes and developing when the body fails to flush them out. That’s not to say that’s the only part of the body a urinary tract infection can develop, with any part of the urinary tract (kidneys, ureters, bladder, urethra) being susceptible. 

As outlined by Healthline, there’s not much difference when it comes to comparing symptoms based on sex aside from women more commonly feeling pelvic pain and men getting rectal pain. However, there is a difference between the symptoms associated with upper urinary tract (kidneys and ureters) and lower urinary (bladder and urethra) tract infections. 

Lower UTI Symptoms 

Upper UTI Symptoms

  • Burning or pain when urinating
  • Constant need to urinate
  • Less relief from urinating
  • Clouded and strong-smelling urine
  • Overall fatigue  
  • Blood in urine
  • Burning or pain when urinating
  • Constant need to urinate
  • Less relief from urinating
  • Clouded and strong-smelling urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Can be confused and reactive
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Overall fatigue  
  • Chills
  • High fever
  • Nausea
  • Prone to vomiting
  • Back/side pain

It should be noted that there is a difference in urinary tract infection symptoms for certain vulnerable groups. More specifically, seniors and children are more likely to wet themselves and be more irritable than usual when infected with a UTI. Parents and caretakers will typically spot the first signs of infection, especially when describing the situation to a doctor. 

What are the first signs of a urinary tract infection?

The first signs of a urinary tract infection can vary from person to person, and some people may not experience any symptoms at all. However, the most common symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Pain or burning sensation during urination
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Urgency to urinate, even when the bladder is empty
  • Cloudy or strong-smelling urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Lower abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Fever or chills (in more severe cases

Additionally, some people, such as young children, elderly individuals, and individuals with weakened immune systems, may experience atypical or more severe symptoms of a UTI. It's always best to seek medical attention if you suspect you have a UTI or are experiencing any unusual symptoms.

Can you have a UTI and not feel it?

Yes, it is possible to have a urinary tract infection and not feel any symptoms. This condition is known as an asymptomatic UTI. Asymptomatic UTIs are more common in certain groups of people, such as pregnant women, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems.

Although an asymptomatic UTI may not cause any discomfort or noticeable symptoms, it can still lead to complications if left untreated. For instance, an untreated UTI may cause kidney disease, particularly in those with preexisting kidney problems. As a result, it's important to undergo routine urine testing to detect and treat asymptomatic UTIs before they cause complications.

How do you know if your UTI is getting worse?

It's important to monitor your urinary tract infection symptoms to ensure that the infection is not getting worse. Here are some signs to pay attention to:

  • Increased pain or burning during urination
  • Increased frequency or urgency of urination
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Lower abdominal pain or discomfort that persists or worsens
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you experience any of these UTI symptoms or notice that your symptoms are getting worse, it's essential to seek medical attention promptly. Your healthcare provider may recommend further testing, such as a urine culture, to identify the type of bacteria causing the infection and determine the most appropriate treatment. 

What is the most common UTI type?

Cystitis: A condition defined by bladder inflammation and the most common of the three. Cystitis occurs when bacteria or other pathogens enter the bladder through the urethra, causing inflammation and infection in the bladder lining.

Pyelonephritis: Used interchangeably with kidney infection, pyelonephritis is a type of urinary tract infection that affects the kidneys. It occurs when bacteria or other pathogens enter the kidneys through the bloodstream or from the lower urinary tract, causing inflammation and infection in the renal tissue.

Urethritis: Urethritis is a condition in which the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body, becomes inflamed or infected. Urethritis can be caused by a variety of factors, including bacterial or viral infections, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and irritants such as soaps or perfumes.

According to Nature Reviews Microbiology, urinary tract infections are also defined by whether they are uncomplicated or complicated. An uncomplicated UTI affects the lower or upper urinary tract system, while a complicated UTI can spread to other parts of the body. By contrast, a complicated UTI can be defined as it spreading to other parts of the body and running the risk of compromising the patient. Many instances of complicated UTIs are due to catheters, which either allow foreign germs to enter the body or allow germs from other parts of the body to spread into the urinary tract system.

How do I know what type of UTI I have?

Without testing you won't know the exact type of UTI you have, but based on symptoms and medical history a doctor will know how to address treatment. For quick relief for bothersome or painful symptoms, CallonDoc can provide same-day prescriptions so you can start treatment right away to clear the infection.

What is considered a bad UTI?

A "bad" UTI typically refers to a urinary tract infection that has progressed to a more severe or complicated stage. This can occur when the infection spreads beyond the bladder and into other parts of the urinary tract, such as the ureters and kidneys. Whereas the ureters carry urine down to the bladder from the kidneys. Bacteria can travel up those same tubes from an infected bladder to compromise the kidneys. 

Bad UTI symptoms may include high fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, severe back pain, and pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen or pelvic area. In some cases, a bad UTI can lead to kidney damage, sepsis, or other serious complications.

What can be mistaken for a urinary tract infection?

Several conditions can mimic the symptoms of a urinary tract infection and may be mistaken for it. Here are some examples: 

Vaginal infections: In women, vaginal infections such as yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis can cause symptoms similar to UTIs, including itching, burning, and abnormal discharge. These symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for a UTI.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Certain STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, can cause symptoms similar to those of a UTI, including pain or burning during urination and abnormal discharge. These symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for a UTI.

Interstitial cystitis: Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition that causes pain and discomfort in the bladder and pelvic area, as well as frequent urination. These symptoms can be similar to those of a UTI, but the condition is not caused by a bacterial infection.

Kidney stones: Kidney stones can cause pain and discomfort in the lower abdomen and back, as well as frequent urination and pain during urination. These symptoms can be similar to those of a UTI, but the condition is caused by the presence of small, hard mineral deposits in the kidneys.

Prostatitis: Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate gland in men that can cause pain or discomfort during urination, as well as pain in the lower back or pelvic area. These symptoms can be similar to those of a UTI, but the condition is not caused by a bacterial infection.

What is the main cause of UTI?

The main cause of a UTI is a bacterial infection, with the most common type of bacteria being Escherichia coli (E. coli). While it is normally found in the intestinal tract, E. coli can just as easily end up at the urethra for women through sexual contact, improper wiping, and lack of hygiene. 

More common in people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or diabetes, UTIs originating from fungi are less common in normal patients due to their immune systems. With the most common being Candida albicans, the fungal variants can be more difficult to deal with because their genetic structure is closer to humans than bacteria. 

Externally, people who do not practice proper hygiene run a greater risk of catching a UTI. Reasons behind recurring urinary tract infections often include:

  • Frequent baths
  • Douching
  • Spraying or powdering the vagina
  • Soaps in or around the vulva
  • Not wiping front to back

Additionally, men with an enlarged prostate and pregnant women run a heightened risk of getting a urinary tract infection. 

Why do pregnant women get UTIs?

  • Changes in hormonal levels: During pregnancy, the hormonal changes in a woman's body can affect the urinary tract and make it more susceptible to infections.
  • Pressure on the bladder: As the uterus expands during pregnancy, it can put pressure on the bladder and urinary tract, making it more difficult to empty the bladder completely. This can lead to urine remaining in the bladder for longer periods of time, which can increase the risk of bacterial growth and infection.
  • Changes in the urinary tract: As the uterus expands, it can also compress the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. This can cause urine to back up into the kidneys, which can increase the risk of kidney infections.
  • Weakened immune system: During pregnancy, the immune system is suppressed to prevent the mother's body from rejecting the developing fetus. This can make pregnant women more susceptible to infections, including UTIs.

Can you get a UTI from your fingers?

Yes, it is possible to get a UTI from your or someone else’s fingers. Fingers that have come into contact with bacteria from the anus or genitals can transfer the bacteria to the urethra, especially if proper hygiene is not followed. This can occur during sexual activity or during activities such as wiping after using the bathroom.

How does a doctor diagnose a UTI?

Often, doctors don’t need much information to diagnose a urinary tract infection. However, when tests are needed, they often include: 

  • Urine test: A urine sample is collected and sent to a laboratory for analysis. The laboratory will look for signs of infection, such as the presence of white blood cells, red blood cells, or bacteria in the urine.
  • Urine culture: If a UTI is suspected, a urine culture may be ordered to determine the type of bacteria causing the infection. The urine is placed on a special growth medium in a laboratory, and any bacteria that are present will grow and can be identified.
  • Imaging tests: If a UTI is severe or recurrent, the doctor may order an imaging test, such as an ultrasound, to check for any abnormalities in the urinary tract.
  • Cystoscopy: In rare cases, a cystoscopy may be performed. This involves inserting a small camera into the urethra to examine the bladder and urinary tract for any signs of damage or abnormal growth.

What is the process of getting rid of UTI?

  • Antibiotics: The first step in treating a UTI is to take a course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the infection. The type of antibiotic prescribed will depend on the type of bacteria causing the infection, as determined by the urine culture test.
  • Pain relief: UTIs can cause pain and discomfort, so the doctor may also recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to help manage these symptoms.
  • Hydration: Drinking plenty of water can help flush out the bacteria from the urinary tract and prevent further infections. It's recommended to drink at least the daily recommended amount of water when treating a UTI. For men, that means a gallon of water daily while women should drink 2.7 liters. 

What makes a UTI worse?

  • Delayed treatment: If left untreated, a UTI can worsen and spread to the kidneys, potentially leading to more severe complications such as kidney damage or sepsis.
  • Poor hygiene: Failing to practice good hygiene, such as wiping from front to back after using the bathroom or not washing hands regularly, can increase the risk of bacterial spread and lead to recurrent infections.
  • Lack of fluids: Dehydration can make a UTI worse, as it reduces urine production and makes it harder to flush out bacteria from the urinary tract.
  • Sexual activity: Sexual activity can irritate the urethra and increase the risk of bacterial transfer, which can worsen a UTI or lead to recurrent infections.
  • Underlying health conditions: Certain underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or a weakened immune system, can make it harder to fight off infections and increase the risk of more severe UTIs.

How can UTIs be prevented?

  • Drink plenty of fluids: Drinking enough fluids, especially water, can help flush bacteria out of the urinary tract.
  • Urinate frequently: Urinating frequently and completely can also help flush bacteria out of the urinary tract.
  • Wipe from front to back: When wiping after using the toilet, it's important to wipe from front to back to avoid transferring bacteria from the anus to the urethra.
  • Practice good hygiene: Keeping the genital area clean and dry can help prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause UTIs. Women should avoid using douches or feminine hygiene sprays, which can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the genital area.
  • Urinate after sex: Urinating after sexual activity can help flush out any bacteria that may have been introduced during intercourse.
  • Avoid irritating feminine products: Certain products, such as bubble baths, powders, and sprays, can irritate the genital area and increase the risk of UTIs.
  • Wear loose, breathable clothing: Wearing loose-fitting clothing made of breathable fabrics, such as cotton, can help prevent the growth of bacteria that thrive in warm, moist environments.
  • Avoid holding urine for too long: Holding urine for too long can allow bacteria to multiply in the urinary tract.
  • Use caution with birth control: Certain types of birth control, such as diaphragms or spermicidal agents, can increase the risk of UTIs. Consider alternative methods of birth control if you have a history of frequent UTIs.

What should I take daily to prevent UTIs?

  • Probiotics: Probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that live in the gut, may help prevent UTIs by promoting a healthy balance of bacteria in the urinary and genital tracts. Eating probiotic-rich foods or taking a probiotic supplement may help prevent UTIs.
  • Cranberry products: Cranberry products, such as cranberry juice, supplements, or the berries themselves, may help prevent UTIs by preventing bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. However, the evidence for their effectiveness is mixed, and they may not be effective for everyone.
  • D-mannose: A type of sugar that may help prevent UTIs by preventing bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. Some studies have shown that taking D-mannose supplements may be as effective as antibiotics for preventing UTIs, although more research is needed.
  • Healthy diet: A diet that is high in whole, nutrient-dense foods and low in processed foods and added sugars can help support the body's natural defenses against infection.
  • Garlic and onions: Garlic and onions contain compounds that have antibacterial properties, which may help prevent UTIs. These compounds include allicin, a sulfur-containing compound found in garlic, and quercetin, a flavonoid found in onions. 
  • Green tea: contains a group of compounds called catechins, which have been shown to have antibacterial properties. Specifically, the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) has been studied for its effects on preventing UTIs. 

While these may provide benefits and help prevent UTIs, they should not be used as a replacement for medical treatment if you have an active infection.

Why use Call-On-Doc when you get a UTI?

If you're experiencing UTI symptoms and need same-day relief, Call-On-Doc can review and provide a treatment plan online from the comfort of your home. Learn more about UTIs and our treatment here.

Source:

  1. Grigoryan, Larissa, et al. “The emotional impact of urinary tract infections in women: a qualitative analysis.” NCBI, BMC Womens Health, 18 May 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9118576/.
  2. Murrell, Daniel. “Urinary tract infection (UTI) in men: Symptoms, causes, and treatment.” Medical News Today, 10 02 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320872#_noHeaderPrefixedContent.
  3. Medina, Martha, and Edgardo Castillo-Pino. “An introduction to the epidemiology and burden of urinary tract infections.” Therapeutic advances in urology vol. 11 1756287219832172. 2 May. 2019, doi:10.1177/1756287219832172, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6502976/.
  4. “Top 10 Things to Know About Urinary Tract Infections.” National Kidney Foundation, https://www.kidney.org/transplantation/transaction/TC/winter11/TCwinter11_UTI.
  5. Al-Badr, Ahmed, and Ghadeer Al-Shaikh. “Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Management in Women: A review.” NCBI, Sultan Qaboos University medical journal vol. 13,3, 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3749018/.
  6. Henigsman, Stacy A., and Ansley Hill. “Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment.” Healthline, 21 02 2023, https://www.healthline.com/health/urinary-tract-infection-adults#symptoms.
  7. Flores-Mireles, Ana L., et al. “Urinary tract infections: epidemiology, mechanisms of infection and treatment options.” Nature.com, Nature Reviews Microbiology, 08 04 2015, https://www.nature.com/articles/nrmicro3432.

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Wayne C. Hahne,

English graduate and Call-On-Doc’s medical resource guide, Wayne C. Hahne is an experienced and passionate medical education content expert. Through diligent research, provider interviews and utilizing the industry's leading resources for wellness information, it is Mr. Hahne’s personal mission to educate the general public on medical conditions with in-depth and easy-to-understand written guides.

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