Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): What It Is, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

UTIAdobe Stock
Medically Reviewed By:
Mark Arredondo, M.D.

Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common health concern, with roughly 40% of women in the United States experiencing one at some point.

This article will explain what UTIs are and what causes them. You'll also learn about the symptoms of UTIs, how they affect men and women differently, and available treatment options.

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when harmful bacteria invade any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra, according to the Mayo Clinic. In most cases, UTIs affect the lower urinary tract, specifically the bladder and urethra.

It's important to note that women are more susceptible to UTIs than men. While a bladder-based infection can be painful and bothersome, it can lead to more severe health complications if left untreated and spread to the kidneys.

UTI causes: How do you get a UTI?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are primarily caused by microorganisms, typically bacteria, the Cleveland Clinic explains. These invaders often enter through the urethra and may infect the bladder.

Left unchecked, the infection can ascend from the bladder, using the ureters as a pathway, eventually reaching the kidneys. This progression underscores the importance of timely treatment to prevent more serious complications.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms, which can vary in intensity. If you're experiencing any of the following, it might be a UTI:

  • Pain in the abdomen, pelvis or lower back
  • Pressure in the lower part of your pelvis
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain while urinating (dysuria)
  • Blood in your urine (hematuria)

Other UTI-associated symptoms, according to the Cleveland Clinic, may include:

  • Pain in your penis
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mental changes or confusion

UTIs during hospitalization

Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a prevalent hospital-acquired infection. Many of these infections are linked to use of urethral catheters, slender tubes placed into the bladder via the urethra to facilitate urine drainage.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 75% of UTIs contracted in the hospital are associated with urinary catheters. Between 15% and 25% of hospitalized patients have catheters.

Prolonged catheter use is a chief risk factor for developing a catheter-associated UTI (CAUTI).

UTI symptoms

The symptoms of urinary tract infections (UTIs) can vary slightly depending on whether the infection occurs in women or men.

UTI symptoms in women

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can show up differently in women compared to men. The U.S. Office on Women’s Health (OASH) lists these as common symptoms:

  • Painful or burning sensation while urinating
  • Frequent urges to urinate, with minimal urine output
  • Pressure in the lower abdomen
  • Foul-smelling or cloudy urine
  • Blood in the urine (more prevalent in younger women)
  • Fatigue, confusion or weakness (more common in older women)
  • Fever, indicating potential kidney involvement -- seek medical attention promptly if this occurs.

"Some of these symptoms, such as a burning sensation during urination, can overlap with the symptoms of other vaginal infections, such as yeast infections -- which are treated very differently from UTIs," Houston Methodist Hospital urologist Dr. Chris Kannady writes in a hospital website.

UTI symptoms in men

While most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are diagnosed in women, in men over 50, an enlarged prostate can impede urine flow. That increases the risk that the bladder won't empty completely and increase bacterial growth, Harvard Medical School explains.

Cystitis (a bladder infection) is more common in men who are uncircumcised or who engage in anal intercourse. Other factors adding to men's UTI risk include narrowing of the urethra and use of non-natural substances like rubber catheters.

Here are some symptoms of UTI to watch for:

  • Frequent urination beyond the usual
  • Intense urge to urinate
  • Pain, discomfort or a burning sensation during urination
  • Waking up during the night to urinate
  • Pain, pressure or tenderness in the lower abdomen
  • Bedwetting in someone who usually stays dry at night
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Fever, with or without chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the side or upper back

UTI treatments

Consult a health care provider to discuss how to get rid of a UTI. Antibiotics are necessary, chosen to combat the specific bacteria causing the infection. Once prescribed, follow the antibiotic regimen to the letter.

Completing the full course, even if symptoms improve, is crucial to prevent a recurrence that may be harder to treat.

In cases of recurring UTIs, a health care provider may suggest an antibiotic course occurring:

  • Daily
  • Every other day
  • After sexual activity
  • At the earliest sign of symptoms

UTI medicine

The Cleveland Clinic explains that health care providers often recommend various antibiotics for UTIs, including:

  • Nitrofurantoin
  • Sulfonamides, like sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (sulfa drugs)
  • Amoxicillin
  • Cephalosporins, such as cephalexin
  • Doxycycline
  • Fosfomycin
  • Quinolones, for instance, ciprofloxacin or levofloxacin

Living with a UTI

Besides following your health care provider's treatment plan, some lifestyle adjustments can enhance your physical and emotional wellness.

Stay hydrated, empty your bladder often, and consider using a heating pad to alleviate discomfort. These simple habits can help you navigate the challenges of living with a UTI while on your path to recovery.


Cleveland Clinic: Urinary Tract Infections

Harvard Medical School: Urinary Tract Infection in Men

Houston Methodist: When to See a Doctor for a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Mayo Clinic: Urinary tract infection (UTI)

U.S. Office on Women’s Health (OASH): Urinary Tract Infections

StatPearls: Urinary Tract Infection

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI)

What This Means For You

Urinary tract infections are common, especially in women, and are treated with antibiotics. Responding quickly to symptoms is important to avoid kidney damage.

Related Stories

No stories found.