Urinary Tract Infections in Women
On this page:
- What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
- Treatment at UHS
- Further information
Any part of the urinary tract can become infected: the urethra, the bladder (infection is called cystitis), the ureters or the kidneys. Bladder infections are common and relatively easily treated, whereas infections that involve the kidneys are less common but more serious.
- A frequent desire to urinate, even after immediately having done so
- A feeling of straining toward the end of urination
- A feeling of incomplete emptying of the bladder
- Pain and burning when urinating
- A need to urinate several times during the night
- Urine that is cloudy or bloody (pink or red)
- Pain in the abdomen or back
- Poor urinary stream (usually in men)
Not everyone will have all these symptoms, and women may experience them to varying degrees. In some cases, symptoms will be unnoticeable.
Causes: Women get UTIs more often than men primarily because of anatomy. In women, the opening of the urethra is closer to the external genital area and anus so bacteria are more likely to be near it, and the urethra is shorter so bacteria are more likely to move up it.
Women's urinary systems can actively protect against UTI in several ways. The process of urination flushes bacteria out of the urinary tract. Bacteria that are normally present around a women's external genital area guard the urethral opening, discouraging replication and movement of unwanted bacteria. The urethra and bladder are usually able to protect themselves against infection, too.
Unfortunately, many factors can disrupt this protective system. Women are more likely to get UTI when they have a new sex partner, are pregnant or have certain illnesses that obstruct the bladder from emptying completely. Also, post-menopausal women tend to get UTI more frequently. The most common way that UTI develop is that bacteria first multiply in the external genital area, then move up into the urinary tract.
See Prevention for additional causes.
Treatment at UHS: If you experience symptoms of UTI, please seek a medical evaluation. Infections that are treated earlier will cause you less discomfort and be easier to treat. The aim of treatment is to eradicate infection.
If you are a UM student or UHS patient, call UHS because you may be able to save yourself a trip. If you have had a UTI in the past but not within the past month, call 734-764-8320 to talk to a nurse about treatment for possible UTI. The nurse will ask you questions and, if appropriate, prescribe medications by phone. Occasionally, nurses will ask women to Schedule an Appointment instead of receiving prescriptions by phone.
For temporary relief of discomfort, a medication (called Uristat in non-prescription form and Pyridium by prescription) is available. This medication is not an antibiotic so will not cure a UTI. It should be used only until you are able to have a medical evaluation. This medication will cause urine and tears to turn orange; women should not wear contacts while using this medication.
Be sure to take all medications as directed, especially antibiotics. Even though symptoms may disappear within a day or so, it is important to take all your antibiotics because the infection may flare up again and become difficult to eliminate.
If you experience UTI symptoms after treatment, it's important to confer with your clinician because your infection may require additional testing and treatment. Your clinician may suggest a follow-up urine test to make sure that the infection is gone. If infection persists your clinician may order tests to determine the type of bacteria causing infection and the location of infection.
For women who frequently experience UTI related to sexual activity, clinicians may prescribe antibiotics that can be taken preventively after sex.
Kidney infections require more intensive antibiotic treatment and follow-up testing. Sometimes, hospitalization is necessary.
- Drink, drink, drink! The more liquids one drinks the faster urine forms to dilute and flush out any bacteria. Hydrating fluids, such as water and fruit juice are best. A daily intake of 2 quarts (eight 8-ounce glasses) is recommended. Cranberry juice has traditionally been used to prevent UTI and research seems to substantiate that benefit, but it will not cure a UTI.
- Urinate often and try to empty the bladder as completely as possible.
- Urinate after intercourse to flush the urethra.
- Wipe from front to back to reduce movement of bacteria from the anus towards the urethra.
- Avoid products such as soaps, bubble baths and douches that irritate the urethra opening.
- When using condoms, use plenty of water-based lubrication. Lubrication minimizes friction that can irritate the urethral opening.
- If you are sensitive to one kind of spermicide, try switching types or brands to find one that works for you. For instance, if you use foam, try a different brand of foam or try a vaginal insert instead.
- Diaphragms apply indirect pressure on the urethra and can reduce urine flow. If you use a diaphragm and frequently get UTI, you may want to try a different type, or switch to a different form of contraception.
For questions about urinary tract infections and treatment, call 734-764-8320 to speak to a UHS nurse.
For illustrations of the urinary tract and more, see Medline Plus.