What Is a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that affects the urinary system. The urinary system works to remove waste and extra water from the body. It includes the kidneys, two ureters, the bladder, and the urethra

Common UTI symptoms include pain or burning with urination, a fever, and cloudy urine. Women are much more likely to experience UTIs than men. Other risk factors include diabetes, spinal cord injury, and catheter use (a tube inserted into the bladder to drain urine). UTIs are usually diagnosed with a urine test and treated with antibiotics.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for urinary tract infections. 

Woman laying on bed feeling unwell

UTI Symptoms

The most common symptom of a urinary tract infection is pain or burning with urination. Other common symptoms of UTIs include:

When the infection spreads to the kidneys, additional symptoms may include:

  • Fever 
  • Fatigue 
  • Shakiness
  • Weakness
  • Low-back pain 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Confusion 

Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition that causes bladder pain and pressure. It can sometimes be mistaken for a UTI. Symptoms of interstitial cystitis include lower abdominal pain, urinary urgency, an urge to urinate more frequently, and pain in the pelvic floor muscles. Symptoms of this condition may be exacerbated by a UTI or several other factors, including sex, dehydration, menstrual periods, and certain medications. 

UTIs in Women: Why Do They Happen More Frequently?

Urinary tract infections affect people assigned female at birth more frequently than those assigned male. UTIs are up to 30 times more common in women than in men. It’s estimated that up to 4 in 10 women with a UTI will experience another within six months.

Women are more at risk for UTIs because of their anatomy. A woman’s urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body, is much shorter than a man’s urethra. When the urethra is shorter, it is easier for bacteria to enter the bladder. A woman’s urethra is also closer to the anus, which raises the risk of exposure to bacteria like Escherichia coli (E. coli). 

Why Does Pregnancy Raise the Risk of a UTI?

The changing hormone levels during pregnancy may raise the risk of UTIs. A pregnant person with a UTI is also more likely to experience a kidney infection. If you are pregnant and develop any symptoms of a UTI, see your healthcare provider immediately. UTIs and kidney infections during pregnancy increase the risk of preeclampsia, premature birth, and low birth weight.

How Do You Get a UTI?

A UTI occurs when bacteria enter the urethra and travel to the bladder. In addition to bacteria, yeast may cause a UTI as well. Bacteria are irritating to the bladder and cause inflammation and pain. 

Risk factors for UTIs include:

UTI Test for Diagnosis

A UTI can be quickly diagnosed with a urine test (urinalysis). If you have developed symptoms of a UTI, such as pain or burning with urination, see your healthcare provider. They will ask you to collect a clean sample of urine for diagnosis. 

To obtain a clean urine sample, start by wiping your genital area with a special wipe provided by your healthcare provider. If you have a vagina, wipe it from front to back. Once you have cleaned the area, begin urinating, then stop. Use the provided cup to catch urine midstream. Once you have obtained your sample, finish urinating into the toilet. 

Once you deliver your urine sample to your healthcare provider, they will test it for bacteria. Your results may take a few days to return. If you experience frequent UTIs, your provider may recommend further testing, including a cystogram (X-ray of the urinary tract) and a cystoscopic exam (a small tube is placed into the urethra to inspect the bladder).

UTI Treatment

Bacteria cause most UTIs and are treatable with antibiotics. The antibiotic depends on several factors, including the type of bacteria involved, your symptoms, how severe the infection is, and how often you experience UTIs. 

To treat a UTI effectively, follow these recommendations: 

  • Take antibiotics as prescribed.
  • Drink more liquids.
  • Urinate as often as you need.
  • Try a heating pad on your lower abdomen.

Possible side effects of antibiotics include a rash, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and yeast infections.

Risks of Untreated UTIs 

Treating a UTI right away is a critical way to prevent complications. UTIs are very treatable with antibiotics. When left untreated, the bacteria that caused the infection can spread to other areas of the body.

The most common complication of a UTI is a kidney infection (pyelonephritis). This occurs when bacteria spread to the kidneys and cause inflammation and pain. A kidney infection can be treated successfully with antibiotics. 

A rare but serious UTI complication happens when bacteria spread to the bloodstream.

Who Gets Chronic UTIs?

It is common for some people to experience chronic or recurrent UTIs. If you experience two UTIs in six months or three in a year, you could be diagnosed with recurrent UTIs. It is more common for women to experience chronic UTIs. 

Can You Have Sex With a UTI?

It is not recommended to have sex with a UTI. Your healthcare provider will likely recommend finishing your course of antibiotics before having sex.

How to Prevent UTIs 

Fortunately, many UTIs can be prevented. To lower your risk of experiencing a UTI, try the following tips:

  • Drink eight glasses of water each day.
  • Use the bathroom when you feel the urge; don’t wait.
  • If you have a vagina, urinate before and after sex.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom.
  • Clean your genital area every day.
  • Take showers instead of baths.
  • Do not douche or use any products inside your vagina.
  • Avoid spermicide creams.
  • Wear cotton underwear and avoid tight-fitting clothing.

Does Cranberry Juice Prevent UTIs?

Cranberry juice may prevent UTIs. Studies have shown that the compounds in cranberries may help prevent bacterial buildup in the walls of the urinary tract. If you have been experiencing recurrent or chronic UTIs, ask your healthcare provider about incorporating cranberry juice into your diet.

How to Prevent UTIs From Recurring 

Once you have a UTI, taking steps to lower your risk of experiencing another one is possible. To reduce your risk of recurrent UTIs, seek treatment as soon as you develop any symptoms. Take your antibiotic prescription as recommended by your healthcare provider. Once your UTI has resolved, take all preventive steps, including drinking more water and urinating when you feel the urge. 


UTIs are common and easily treated. When treated right away, they do not cause further damage to the urinary tract. When left untreated, UTIs can lead to serious complications like kidney or blood infections. 

If you develop a UTI, seek treatment right away to get started on a course of antibiotics. Take your medication exactly as prescribed and do not share it with others. If your symptoms do not improve, talk with your healthcare provider.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Urinary tract infections.

  2. Office on Women’s Health. Urinary tract infections.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Urinary tract infection.

  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition & facts of interstitial cystitis.

  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Bladder infection (urinary tract infection—UTI) in adults.

  6. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for bladder infection in adults.

  7. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for bladder infection in adults.

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.