A doctor discussing UTIs

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection that affects any part of your urinary system, including your kidneys, bladder, ureters, or urethra. UTIs most commonly affect the lower part of your urinary tract, which includes your bladder and urethra. Here’s a look at everything you need to know about urinary tract infections, including their symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatments.

UTI Symptoms

Though UTIs will not always present symptoms, there are some signs and symptoms that usually indicate this type of infection. These include:

  • A burning sensation while urinating
  • Frequently passing small amounts of urine
  • A very strong, very persistent urge to urinate at all times
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Urine that appears cloudy
  • Blood in the urine, as evidenced by red, bright pink, or cola-colored urine
  • Pelvic pain in the center of the pelvis, especially for women

Signs and symptoms of UTIs may vary depending on which part of the urinary tract is being affected.

UTI Causes

A urinary tract infection is the result of bacteria entering the urinary tract through the urethra and multiplying in the bladder. There are different types of bacteria that will cause different types of infections. UTIs mainly affect women, and most infections occur in the bladder and urethra.

The best way to prevent urinary tract infections is to reduce as many risk factors as you can. There are some risk factors that are specific to women, including going through menopause and using certain types of birth control. Other risk factors include:

  • Blockages in the urinary tract
  • Recent urinary procedure
  • Urinary tract abnormalities
  • Catheter use
  • Suppressed immune system

UTI Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects that you might have a UTI, he or she will likely recommend that you undergo one of the following tests to confirm your diagnosis.

  • Urine sample analysis: This is the most common way to diagnose a UTI and it involves taking a sample of your urine to look for any white blood cells, red blood cells, or bacteria that may be present.
  • Urine culture: Sometimes your doctor might want a urine culture in addition to a urine sample. This involves growing the urinary tract bacteria in the lab in order to determine which bacteria are causing your infection so the correct antibiotic can be chosen for most effective treatment.
  • Imaging: If you are experiencing frequent UTIs, your doctor may want to see if there is anything abnormal about your urinary tract by using ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRIs.
  • Cystoscopy: Another procedure that is often performed for frequent UTIs is a cystoscopy, which involves inserting a long thin tube with a camera attached into your urethra through to your bladder.

UTI Treatments

Treatment will vary depending on the type of UTI you are experiencing, as well as if this is a one-time occurrence or if you are having frequent infections. Antibiotics are the first line of treatment for most urinary tract infections, but the type of antibiotic and length of treatment will depend on the severity of your infection. 

Last Updated: October 31, 2016