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What Causes Urinary Tract Infections?

Updated on January 10, 2017

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection is just that--an infection of the urinary tract. It's caused by germs entering the urinary tract--usually through sexual intercourse or by being exposed to water with the germs in it, like the bathtub. The germs that cause urinary tract infections come from the small intestine.

Basically, they're germs in your poop.

Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection

Symptoms of UTI's vary from person to person but you may have a urinary tract infection if you're experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pelvic Pain (women) or Rectal Pain (men)
  • A strong urge to urinate often, but when you do, not much comes out.
  • Pain when urinating (this can range from anything from a burning sensation to feeling like you're friggin' peeing glass!)
  • Cloudy or red-tinged (the presence of blood--it sucks, but it's common with a UTI) urine.
  • Strong or foul smelling urine.

In some cases, a UTI can be without symptoms.

You may also experience flu-like symptoms that indicate a more serious infection (such as a bladder or kidney infection) including:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Shaking and chills
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Discomfort in the lower abdomen
  • Pain in your lower back and sides

Make sure to talk to your doctor if you're experiencing any of these symptoms when you go in to give a urine sample. Depending on the situation, most cases of kidney and bladder infections are still treated at home with antibiotics but your doctor may instruct you to get more rest and be less active (including staying home from work or school) until your treatment is over to prevent complications.

What Does a UTI Feel Like?

A urinary tract infection usually causes the sufferer to feel pain and discomfort while urinating. It's kinda like peeing out a cactus, or glass shards.

Yeah, not great.

This pain is usually accompanied by the urge to pee constantly, and discomfort in the lower abdomen or rectum.

Will I Die From a UTI?

Nope. But it is important to get a UTI treated early on because infections in the urinary tract can travel to your kidneys, causing a kidney infection which is not great and has the possibility to become dangerous (I mean, your kidneys are pretty important, so...)

The Thing About Cranberry Juice

Hold up! Unless you're drinking 100% pure cranberry juice, you could be making things worse with all of the sugar in that juice.
Hold up! Unless you're drinking 100% pure cranberry juice, you could be making things worse with all of the sugar in that juice. | Source

Growing up, my grandparents always kept cranberry juice around. Thinking it was just some sadistic pleasure for them, I opted always for apple juice. In my adult years I came to realize that the presence of cranberry juice served much of the same function as those individually wrapped prunes they had laying around-- to prevent the not-fun-realities of getting older.

The thing about cranberry juice though, is that unless it's pure cranberry juice with no sugar added, it won't do much to prevent a urinary tract infection. In fact, the sugar in the juice can hinder the prevention of UTI's because sugar exacerbates infections.

Instead, try taking cranberry capsules or finding pure cranberry juice online or at your local health food store.

What if I'm Pregnant and Have a UTI?

Urinary tract infections are super common in pregnant women. Your doctor will be more likely to culture your urine (insist that they do!) as pregnancy can cause your infection to be resistant to certain antibiotics. Though it's never great to have an active infection while pregnant, in most cases, with proper treatment, the baby is not affected.

How Will My Doctor Test for a UTI?

Drink up! Your doctor will do a simple urine test to test for a urinary tract infection. He or she may also send a urine sample to the lab to be cultured and find out exactly which bacteria is causing your specific infection. This will aid in choosing the proper antibacterial treatment.

What To Avoid

During the treatment of a urinary tract infection its important to avoid the following:

  • Sugar. Sugar can slow down the healing of a UTI.
  • Intercourse. I mean, think about it. That's where all of the healing is trying to take place! Plus, infected females can infect male partners if protection is not used.
  • Baths. Baths are a big no-no as tempting as they may be, especially if you're experiencing a backache. The point though, is to keep bacteria out of the urinary tract.
  • Strenuous Exercise. Anytime you are fighting an infection, it's important to get extra rest and be kind to your body so it can be kind to you.

A Warning About Bactrim

Bactrim (or sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim) is a heavy duty antibiotic that can wipe out a UTI pretty quickly. It also contains sulfa, which many people are highly allergic to. Unless you've successfully used antibiotics containing sulfa before, ask your doctor about an alternative like Macrobid or Amoxicillin-- both of which also carry unpleasant side affects but have a lower percentage of allergic reactions--before settling on Bactrim.

One of the best ways to fight a urinary tract infection is a healthy dose of good ol' fashioned rest and relaxation.
One of the best ways to fight a urinary tract infection is a healthy dose of good ol' fashioned rest and relaxation. | Source

How Will My Doctor Treat a UTI?

Doctors almost always treat a urinary tract infection with an antibiotic like amoxicillin, macrobid, or bactrim, to name a few. The reason to treat a UTI with an antibiotic, instead of naturally at home is that urinary tract infections can spread to the kidneys--a potentially (but not usually!!) fatal problem.

Once you've finished the course of antibiotics, your doctor will want you to come back in to give another urine sample to make that the infection has completely cleared.

Treating UTI's at Home

UTI's are often treated with an antibiotic. In addition, when you have a urinary tract infection it's important to drink plenty or water to flush the infection out, and to use the bathroom often, making sure that you are completely emptying your bladder (for women, this means bending forward a bit on the potty to ensure you've properly pushed all of the urine out of your bladder).

Preventing UTI's

You can prevent reoccurring urinary tract infections by keeping these things in mind:

  • Ladies, wipe from to back. Always. This keeps the germs that cause UTI's away from the urinary tract.
  • Urinate before and after intercourse to flush away any germs that may have entered.
  • Avoid baths, but when you just can't stay away, urinate afterward (in the toilet, of course...)
  • Don't hold your pee!
  • Consider taking a cranberry capsule regularly to maintain the health of your urinary tract.


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    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I had a UTI when I was 18. I had such tremendous pain in my abdomen, I could barely stand up. Of course, I had no idea what it was. I ended up going to the hospital; the pain was that bad. A nurse told me she was going to take a sample of my pee. Okay, no problem - I expected her to hand me a cup and I'd crawl my way to the bathroom. Oh no, my friend. She gave me a catheter. I'd never had one before. As soon as she inserted it, I kicked her and the catheter clear across the room. What a rude awakening! I told her I would have been able to crawl to the bathroom. Boy, that was as painful as the UTI. Thankfully, that's the only time I had the experience. I've heard of some people that get them all the time. I can't imagine it.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

      Kierstin Gunsberg 3 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Oh no!! Wow, that sounds terrible and embarrassing, haha. Thankfully, they have at-home test strips now to confirm BEFORE you go through all of that : )

    • profile image

      Hbey k 19 months ago

      On the one hand, there many clinical cases which seem to be symptomatic urinary infections and which are almost treated with antibiotics.

      They are in fact chronical spastic bladders or nervouse bladders, and they are met, especially, in females.The urinary biological exam in often negative in this case.

      On the other hand many patients finish by being resistent to the use of some antibiotics when it is a real chronical urinary infection case.

      I think, when it is a chronical symptomatic urinary infection, the nervouse component existes.

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