A urinary tract infection, also called a UTI, is an infection that occurs in the urinary system. This could include the urethra, bladder, ureters and kidneys. Most infections involve the bladder and urethra, known as the lower urinary tract.
The most common symptoms include painful urination, tenderness above the bladder area, urgency and frequency of urination. Cloudy and a strong odor are not signs of infection.
Women are at greater risk for a UTI because the urethra is shorter than in men, so it's easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder. UTIs also are more common in postmenopausal women because low estrogen levels change vaginal and urethral tissue to increase the risk of infection.
It's always better to prevent an infection rather than simply treat it. UTIs are no different.
Follow these tips to lower your risk of a UTI with little or no potential negative side effects:
Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. This helps keep bladder tissue hydrated and healthy. It also dilutes your urine and lowers the concentration of bacteria in the bladder. Some people can clear an infection on their own just by drinking fluids. Try drinking at least 50 ounces, or about 1.5 liters, of fluid daily to prevent infections.
Empty your bladder often. Regularly emptying your bladder ensures urine is not sitting in your bladder for long periods of time. Since bacteria like warm and wet environments to grow, this takes away good living conditions for the bacteria. It's normal to empty your bladder four to eight times per day.
Urinate soon after sex. The act of intercourse can cause bacteria to get close to or into the urethra, the small tube that empties your bladder. Voiding after intercourse removes some of the bacteria before it can cause an infection.
Take cranberry supplements. While cranberry supplements have not been shown in studies to prevent urinary tract infections, there is a reasonable biologic mechanism that using them could be helpful. If you would like to try this option, consider a concentrated over-the-counter cranberry supplement instead of cranberry juice. It likely provides more benefit and reduces extra sugar typically found in juice.
Wipe front to back. Doing so after urinating and after a bowel movement helps prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
If you have two or more infections in six months, consider talking with your health care team about recurrent UTIs. Your health care team will review your medical history and medications, and complete a thorough physical exam.
Risk factors for recurrent UTIs include:
Frequent sexual intercourse, which increases the likelihood of bacteria entering the urethra and bladder.
Using spermicide with or without a diaphragm, as this can harm protective bacteria in the urinary tract that defend against infection.
Urinary retention or incomplete bladder emptying caused by medications; narrowing of the urethra; prolapse of the bladder, uterus or vagina; neurological conditions; or sometimes unknown reasons.
Vaginal atrophy, which is a postmenopausal condition caused by decreased estrogen levels.
Genetics, especially the inherited genes that regulate the body's immune response to infections.
It's common for some people to have bacteria in their urine but not experience any symptoms. In these cases, no treatment is necessary.
Talk with your health care team if you think you have a UTI. You may need an appointment to discuss your symptoms and collect a urine sample.
You should seek medical attention if you develop a fever, chills, disorientation, or back or side pain. These could be signs of a kidney infection, which requires treatment, or a systemic infection of the bloodstream that requires hospitalization.