Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Overview of urinary tract infection (UTI)

Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common type of infection. Although UTIs can cause pain, most respond quickly to treatment. A UTI happens when bacteria enter your urinary tract and irritate your kidneys, bladder, ureters (the tubes that drain urine from your kidneys to your bladder), or urethra.

If you are dealing with symptoms of a UTI, Find a gynecologist at Dignity Health for diagnosis and treatment. Schedule an appointment and start experiencing relief today.


Unfortunately, a UTI does not always cause symptoms. When they do occur, UTI symptoms often include:

  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Urine that is cloudy, smells bad, or is reddish in color
  • Feeling of pain or pressure in the lower abdomen
  • Fever
  • Feeling tired or sick


UTIs happen when bacteria enter your urethra and urinary tract and travel to your bladder, where they start to multiply. The most common bacteria that cause UTIs are Escherichia coli (E. coli) and other bacteria from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

There are a number of ways these bacteria can be introduced into the urinary tract, including:

  • Wiping from back to front – Bacteria from bowel movements can enter the urethra and cause infection.
  • Having sex – Sexual intercourse can push germs into your urinary tract.
  • Incomplete emptying of the bladder – Germs thrive in dark, moist places. Bacteria can grow if you do not completely empty your bladder.
  • Using a diaphragm or spermicide for contraception – Diaphragms push against your urethra and may cause urine to linger in your bladder.
  • Having a catheter to drain urine – When people are unable to urinate — after surgery, for example — doctors may insert a thin tube into the bladder to drain urine. This can create an environment where germs thrive.
  • Changing vaginal environment – UTIs are common during menopause because hormonal changes make you more likely to get certain infections.


Since a UTI can affect any part of the urinary tract, there are several types of infections that can occur:

  • Bladder infection – Known as cystitis, this can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, chills and a high fever, and pain in the upper back and side.
  • Kidney infection – Known as acute pyelonephritis, this can be accompanied by pelvic pressure and discomfort, painful urination that occurs frequently, and blood in the urine.
  • Urethral infection – Known as urethritis, this can be accompanied by a burning feeling during urination and discharge.

Risk factors

Many risk factors can contribute to the development of a UTI. Some of these are specific to women, including:

  • Anatomy – Women have a shorter urethra than men, making it easier for bacteria to get to the bladder.
  • Being sexually active – Women who are sexually active are at higher risk.
  • Birth control – Some types of birth control, particularly the use of diaphragms, can increase the risk.
  • Menopause – A decline in estrogen after menopause can result in changes in the urinary tract, making it more susceptible to infection.

Other potential risk factors include:

  • Abnormalities in the urinary tract
  • Blockages in the urinary tract
  • The use of a catheter
  • A weakened or suppressed immune system
  • Recent urinary surgery
  • Previous UTIs
  • Kidney stones
  • Age (older adults get UTIs more frequently)
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Use of a catheter for a prolonged period of time
  • Lack of mobility after a surgical procedure or bed rest


Fortunately, there are preventive measures you can take to reduce the risk of getting a UTI:

  • Always keep yourself well hydrated, particularly with water. This helps flush out bacteria from the urinary tract. Women should consume 2.7 liters (11.5 cups) per day. Other sources of fluids include herbal teas, naturally flavored water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and soups.
  • Drink cranberry juice regularly.
  • Wipe from the front to the back whenever you use the toilet.
  • Urinate as soon as possible after you have sex.
  • Do not use scented or irritating feminine products, such as douches or powders.
  • Wear breathable underwear with a cotton crotch, and loose-fitting clothing.
  • Do not use a diaphragm or spermicide-treated condoms for birth control.
  • Get plenty of exercise and frequently move throughout the day.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.

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