Illness & Conditions - Health Conditions
Urinary Tract Infections in Teens and Adults
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This topic is about urinary tract infections in teens and adults. For information about infections in babies and young children, see the topic Urinary Tract Infections in Children.
What is a urinary tract infection?
Your urinary tract is the system that makes urine and carries it out of your body. It includes your bladder and kidneys and the tubes that connect them. When germs get into this system, they can cause an infection.
Most urinary tract infections are bladder infections . A bladder infection usually is not serious if it is treated right away. If you do not take care of a bladder infection, it can spread to your kidneys. A kidney infection is serious and can cause permanent damage.
What causes urinary tract infections?
Usually, germs get into your system through your urethra, the tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside of your body. The germs that usually cause these infections live in your large intestine and are found in your stool. If these germs get inside your urethra, they can travel up into your bladder and kidneys and cause an infection.
Women tend to get more bladder infections than men. This is probably because women have shorter urethras, so it is easier for the germs to move up to their bladders. Having sex can make it easier for germs to get into your urethra.
You may be more likely to get an infection if you do not drink enough fluids, you have diabetes, or you are pregnant. The chance that you will get a bladder infection is higher if you have any problem that blocks the flow of urine from your bladder. Examples include having kidney stones or an enlarged prostate gland.
For reasons that are not well understood, some women get bladder infections again and again.
What are the symptoms?
You may have an infection if you have any of these symptoms:
Call your doctor right away if you think you have an infection and:
How are urinary tract infections diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask for a sample of your urine. It is tested to see if it has germs that cause bladder infections.
If you have infections often, you may need extra testing to find out why.
How are they treated?
Antibiotics prescribed by your doctor will usually cure a bladder infection. It may help to drink lots of water and other fluids and to urinate often, emptying your bladder each time.
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take the pills exactly as you are told. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to finish taking them all so that you do not get sick again.
Can urinary tract infections be prevented?
You can help prevent these infections.
Frequently Asked Questions
Bacteria that enter the urethra and travel up the urinary tract are the usual cause of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Bacteria that normally live in the large intestine and are present in feces (stool) are the most common source of infection. Sexual intercourse may move bacteria into the urinary tract, especially in women. Catheters , which are small, flexible tubes inserted into the bladder to allow urine to drain, are a common source of bacterial infection in people who are in hospitals or who live in long-term care facilities.
Sometimes bacteria traveling through the blood or lymph system cause kidney or bladder infections.
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) may include:
Some people have bacteria in their urinary tract without having any symptoms. This is called asymptomatic bacteriuria. These types of infections often affect pregnant women, older adults, and people who need a catheter to urinate. Pregnant women are screened for asymptomatic bacteriuria and treated with antibiotics, because it can cause preterm labor and other problems if not treated. Asymptomatic bacteriuria may lead to infections that cause symptoms, but in many cases it does not. It usually goes away without treatment.
Several other conditions, such as vaginal infections or irritable bladder, cause symptoms similar to those of a UTI. Your doctor may evaluate your health for one or more of these if you have urinary symptoms, depending on your medical history and how well you respond to treatment for a UTI.
Typically, UTIs cause urinary symptoms, such as pain or burning during urination. Some mild bladder infections may go away on their own within a couple of days. Most UTIs clear up quickly with antibiotics and home treatment, which includes drinking plenty of water and urinating frequently. The amount of time required to cure the infection and the need for urine tests will vary with the location (bladder or kidneys), frequency, and seriousness of the infection. Kidney infections and UTIs that are complicated by other factors require longer treatment.
Complications of UTIs are not common but do occur. Serious complications can include permanent kidney damage and widespread infection (sepsis), which can be life-threatening. The risk is greater if the infection is not treated or if the infection does not respond to antibiotics.
Some people have many UTIs. They are often new infections (recurrent UTIs), but they can also be the same infection coming back (a relapse). A rapid relapse usually means that treatment failed or there is another problem affecting the urinary tract (not just the infection). But recurrent UTIs in women usually aren't serious.
UTIs in women
UTIs are most common in young to middle-aged women. They occur more often in women than in men because:
Some women have an ongoing problem with UTIs. If a woman has more than two bladder infections in 6 months or more than three infections in a year, she is said to have recurrent UTIs. Recurrent UTIs usually get better with extended antibiotic treatment. But infection may recur as soon as the woman stops taking antibiotics. For this reason, doctors usually recommend preventive antibiotics.
UTIs in men
Most urinary tract infections in men are caused by bacteria, not by another problem.
But UTIs in older men are more often related to prostate problems. This can make them more difficult to treat. Having an enlarged prostate , which is common in older men, can limit the body's ability to pass urine. Repeated UTIs may indicate prostatitis , epididymitis , or another urinary tract problem.
For more information, see:
What Increases Your Risk
Risk factors in women
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are most common in young to middle-aged sexually active women. Things that increase a woman's risk of getting UTIs include:
Risk factors in men
Things that increase a man's risk of UTIs include:
Risk factors in both women and men
Certain risk factors apply to both women and men. These include:
When To Call a Doctor
Call your doctor immediately if painful urination or other symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) occur with:
Call your doctor immediately if you are pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI (listed above).
Call a doctor if you:
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. If you get better on your own, you won't need treatment. If you get worse, you and your doctor will decide what to do next.
In adults, home treatment for minor urinary tract infections (UTIs) often resolves the problem. Home treatment includes drinking plenty of water and urinating often, emptying the bladder each time.
Watchful waiting is not appropriate if you:
Who to see
The following health professionals can treat urinary tract infections (UTIs):
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
Exams and Tests
If you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI), your first evaluation by a doctor will likely include:
Your doctor may order a urine culture to confirm the diagnosis of a suspected UTI. But if your symptoms, medical history, and urinalysis make the presence of an uncomplicated urinary tract infection likely, your doctor may have you begin treatment with antibiotics without waiting for the results of a urine culture.
A doctor may order a urine culture:
If you are pregnant, your doctor may order a urine culture:
Tests used less frequently
If the infection does not respond to treatment with antibiotics or recurs rapidly, if the infection may be complicated by other factors, or, in some cases, if the kidneys are infected, your doctor may order other tests to:
If you get UTIs often, your doctor may write you a standing prescription for antibiotics that you can fill without a doctor's appointment. Then when you first have symptoms of a UTI, you can start taking medicine right away. You may want to use a home test for UTI to make sure you have an infection before you start antibiotics.
Antibiotics can treat most urinary tract infections (UTIs) successfully. The goals of treatment for UTIs are to relieve symptoms, eliminate the infection and prevent recurrence, and prevent unlikely but serious complications such as kidney damage and sepsis. In pregnant women, treatment protects the woman and the fetus. The number of days your doctor will have you take antibiotics depends on your infection and the type of antibiotic medicine.
Treatment for uncomplicated bladder infections is usually a combination of antibiotics and home treatment. Home treatment includes drinking a lot of water and fluids and urinating frequently, emptying your bladder each time. More testing is not needed if your symptoms improve.
Oral antibiotics usually can treat kidney infections ( pyelonephritis ). But you may need a brief hospital stay and a short course of intravenous (IV) antibiotics if you are too ill or nauseated to take medicine by mouth (oral medicine). Kidney infections tend to make people more severely ill than bladder infections.
You may need more tests before and after treatment if you:
If you have a severe kidney infection, or if a bladder or kidney infection is complicated by other factors, you may need hospital care.
Treatment if the condition gets worse or recurs
If your urinary tract infection (UTI) does not improve after treatment with antibiotics, you will need further evaluation and additional antibiotic treatment.
If the infection spreads and affects your kidney function or causes widespread infection (sepsis), you will need hospital care. These complications are not common. And they rarely occur in people who are otherwise healthy. People are at higher risk if they have an impaired immune system, diabetes, untreated urinary tract obstruction, and/or other conditions that affect the kidneys or bladder.
A new infection, rather than a relapse of the same infection, usually is the cause of a UTI that keeps coming back (recurs).
You can take steps to prevent new or relapsing urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Prevention tips for men and women
Prevention tips for women
Prevention tip for men
Keep the tip of your penis clean, especially if you are uncircumcised. The foreskin can trap bacteria, which can then get into the urinary tract and cause infection.
You may be able to cure an early urinary tract infection (UTI) if you act promptly when you have the first symptoms of a UTI, such as pain and burning with urination. Try these home treatment steps that may stop an infection from getting worse:
To relieve pain, take a hot bath or lay a heating pad over your genital area. Never go to sleep with a heating pad in place.
Self-treatment of recurrent UTIs
If you are a woman who has frequent uncomplicated UTIs, your doctor may write a standing prescription for antibiotics to take if you notice symptoms of a UTI. If you and your doctor agree to follow this approach and you start to have symptoms that you are certain are caused by a UTI, follow your doctor's instructions for taking the medicine and for watching your symptoms. Be sure to tell your doctor if your symptoms do not improve or if you start having UTIs more often than in the past.
Oral antibiotics can treat most bladder infections and uncomplicated kidney infections successfully. In many cases, if the symptoms and urinalysis suggest a urinary tract infection (UTI), you will start taking antibiotics without waiting for the results of a urine culture.
The number of days your doctor will have you take antibiotics depends on your infection and the type of antibiotic medicine.
Antibiotics for recurrent infections
Doctors sometimes advise that women with repeat infections use preventive antibiotic therapy. This may include taking a small dose of antibiotics daily or on alternate days, taking antibiotics after sexual intercourse (since sex often triggers UTIs in women with recurrent infections), or taking antibiotics only when you develop symptoms. Talk with your doctor about which treatment strategy is right for you.
Medicines used to treat UTIs include:
Medicines used to prevent recurrent UTIs include:
Be sure to tell your doctor if you are or think you may be pregnant. Some of these medicines are not safe to use if you are pregnant.
What to think about
These medicines are often prescribed in a less costly generic form rather than under a brand name. A pharmacist might also decide to give you a generic instead of a brand name medicine unless the prescription says "no generic."
Take all of the antibiotics your doctor has prescribed. Most people begin to feel better soon after they begin the medicine. But if you stop taking the medicine as soon as you feel better, the infection may return. And not taking the full course of antibiotics encourages the development of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics . This not only makes antibiotics less effective but also makes bacterial infections harder to treat.
Many forms of bacteria have become resistant to common antibiotics designed to destroy them. These are called antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance among bacteria that cause UTIs has increased steadily in recent decades. You and your doctor may have to try different antibiotics, and different combinations of antibiotics, to find the right medicine that will kill the bacteria that is causing your UTI. Before starting you on a new antibiotic, your doctor may get a urine sample from you. Results from tests on this sample will help guide the decision on which antibiotic you take next.
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