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What a pain! Understanding UTIs

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are painful, uncomfortable and one of the most common infections in the U.S., leading to nearly 10 million visits to health care providers each year. Women are more likely to get UTIs, but they can also affect men and children. And because the symptoms can be wide ranging from person to person, a UTI may be difficult to spot.

Understanding the causes and recognizing the symptoms early will help ensure you get the right care, right away. If left untreated, a UTI can spread to the kidneys and turn into something much more serious. 

What causes a UTI?

A UTI is any kind of infection that happens along the urinary tract, including in the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Most UTIs happen in the lower tract, which is made up of the urethra and bladder. UTIs in the upper tract, involving the ureters and kidneys, are rarer and more severe.

E. coli bacteria, which normally lives in the intestines, is the most common cause of UTIs. While the urinary system is built to keep out bacteria and other microscopic invaders, its defenses sometimes fail. Bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra and starts to multiply in the bladder.

Because the female anatomy has a shorter urethra, women are most susceptible to UTIs and may experience multiple bouts during their lifetime. Nearly 20 percent of women who have a UTI will get another one, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Women who are sexually active are at even higher risk, since each sexual partner introduces new bacteria and increases the chance of infection.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

Symptoms of a UTI can vary depending on what’s infected. Sometimes the symptoms are not obvious. Generally, for lower tract UTIs, common symptoms include:

  • Increased urgency to urinate
  • Increased frequency of urination without passing much urine
  • Cloudy, bloody or darkened urine, or urine that has a strong odor
  • Burning sensation with urination

Along with these symptoms, women often experience pelvic pain, while men may experience rectal pain.

Upper tract UTIs affect the kidneys and can be potentially life-threatening. Bacteria could move from the infected kidney to the blood, causing urosepsis. This condition can cause dangerously low blood pressure, shock and death. Seek medical care right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Tenderness and pain in the sides and upper back
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

UTI treatment: Don’t delay

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) account for about 10 million doctor visits each year.The sooner you receive treatment for your UTI, the sooner you’ll get relief and stop the potential spread of infection. The medical professionals at Indigo Urgent Care will evaluate your symptoms and provide a prompt diagnosis and treatment plan. If the source of your UTI is bacterial, your provider will prescribe antibiotics.

Lower tract UTIs are typically treated with oral antibiotics, while more severe upper tract UTIs may require intravenous antibiotics and a trip to the ER. If the cause is viral or fungal, appropriate medications will be prescribed. 

How to prevent UTIs

While treatment of a urinary tract infection is pretty straightforward, the goal is to avoid getting one in the first place. A few easy, preventative steps will help lower your risk:

  • Drink six to eight glasses of water daily
  • Avoid holding urine for long periods of time
  • Urinate before and after sexual intercourse
  • Wipe from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria
  • Minimize douching and the use of irritating sprays or powders in the genital area

Does cranberry juice prevent UTIs?

While there is an active ingredient (A-type proanthocyanins) in cranberries that can prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall, most studies show cranberries, cranberry juice and supplements don’t have enough of it to prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract. Some studies suggest cranberry juice may decrease the number of UTI symptoms over a 12-month period in women with recurrent UTIs, but this data isn’t conclusive.

If you experience frequent UTIs, speak with your medical provider about a prevention plan. 

Safe (and virtual) care when you need it

If you suspect a UTI, don’t hesitate to get the care you need to stop it in its tracks. Indigo Urgent Care is open from 8 am to 8 pm every day, including weekends and holidays. Schedule an appointment online, and learn more about the extra precautions we’re taking to keep you safe when you visit. We’ll get you on your way to feeling better fast.

If you’ve had UTIs in the past and are familiar with the symptoms, save a trip to the clinic with a MultiCare Virtual Care e-Visit. Just answer a short online questionnaire and a provider will get back to you in less than an hour with a diagnosis and treatment plan, including a prescription if needed.

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