Urinary Tract Infection: UTI Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Untreated urinary tract infection can lead to kidney failure and be life-threatening. In this article below, we discuss the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention and everything you need to know about UTIs.

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UTIs are infections that affect the urinary system. PHOTO via @Medlife/11 April 2021

An infection of the urinary system is referred to as a urinary tract infection (UTI). The infection may involve any of the structures from the urethra (the tube that carries urine to the outside of the body) to and including the bladder.

It can cause pain while urinating, increased frequency of urination, and blood in the urine.

Urinary tract infection (UTIs) are classified by their location in your urinary tract as either lower UTIs or upper UTIs. Lower UTIs refer to infection below your bladder, like a kidney infection. Upper UTIs refer to an infection above your bladder, like a bladder or prostate infection.

The most common UTIs are lower UTIs – bladder infections. Upper UTIs are less common, but maybe more difficult to diagnose.

Symptoms vary based on the type of infection and its location along the urinary tract, but may include:

1) Pain during urination: usually feels like someone is pressing on your bladder when you urinate, or a heavy feeling in your pelvis when you urinate (called “bladder spasms”), or a burning sensation in your urethra while you urinate (this feel like a “burning” sensation). Upper UTIs can also commonly cause blood in the urine.

2) Increased urination: frequent or urgent urination (sometimes called “peeing a lot”), also known as polyuria. Both bladder infections and kidney infections can cause this symptom.

3) Low UTI symptoms: if the infection is above your bladder, you may experience pain in your lower back, flank (part of the side of your abdomen), or pubic area. You may also experience pain when you walk or get up after sitting for a long time, due to irritation of one or more joints in your pelvic area.

Kidney infections are more likely to cause these symptoms than bladder infections.

4) Fever: fever in children or pregnant women is a sign of an infection.

5) Blood in urine: because of the risk of kidney infection, blood in your urine may be a sign that you have an infection. Blood in your urine can be alarming if you are not sure what it is, but should not be cause for concern.

Regarding blood in your urine, some people say that blood “caught” during urination means that you do not have an infection (it’s “the blood leaving the body”), while others believe this to be a symptom of a UTI.

6) Pain and burning in the lower part of your abdomen: bladder or kidney infection.

7) Need to pee frequently: bladder infection.

8) Short, painful voiding: lower UTI, like a kidney infection. This symptom occurs more often in children than adults.

9) Urine that smells bad or has a dark color: uncommon, but may be due to a condition called “Hirschsprung’s disease” (a kind of incompletely formed bowel). Chronic UTIs can cause “smelly” urine if they get into the urethra. Chronic upper UTIs are more likely to cause this symptom than those in the lower urinary tract.

10) Bloody, pus-like, or cloudy urine: this can be a symptom of infection (in the bladder, kidney, or upper urinary tract). It can also occur when you have something called “blood in urine” – meaning that it’s not actually an infection.

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11) Pain between the shoulder blades (called “lumbar pain” or “back pain”) is uncommon but may be due to a kidney infection. Kidney infection symptoms are more likely to include pain in your back than other types of UTIs.

12) Cloudy or very low amount of urine output: can be a sign of dehydration OR a kidney infection.

13) Blood in a bag of urine: this is a common symptom of upper UTIs. It can also occur during pregnancy, in which case it means the baby has an infection.

Some symptoms are more common with certain types of infections:

1) Pain between the shoulder blades: kidney infection.

2) Pain is worse when coughing, laughing, lifting heavy objects, or walking fast (called “renal colic” or “uremic colic”) due to kidney infection. Kidney infections can be similar to the pains you get during normal urination and pelvic muscles spasms (called “bladder spasms”).

3) Abdominal pain and/or back pain: bladder infection.

4) Cloudy or very low amount of urine output: kidney infection.

5) Small red bumps on the skin, also called “vesiculobullous rash”: a form of skin infection called “vesiculitis”. It can be an early symptom of kidney or bladder infections. Another type of skin infection called “ural necrotizing fasciitis” can occur in children’s or pregnant women’s bladders but is more likely to affect the child than the mother. This type of ‘rash’ is quite rare and causes large open wounds on your body.

6) Fever + Pain in the back or side: kidney infection. The kidney is located above the bladder, so this can be a difficult distinction to make.

7) Pain in the groin area, like you have been kicked below your navel: bladder infection or kidney infection. Kidney infections tend to cause more pain in your groin area than bladder infections do.

Acute and chronic UTI symptoms?

How can I tell the difference between acute and chronic UTI symptoms?

Acute vs chronic UTI symptoms are sometimes confused for each other, which is why it’s important to understand them.

Chronic UTI symptoms can continue for several weeks or even longer. They include pain, blood in the urine, and often cloudy or smelly urine. These are signs that your body is “fighting off” an infection. Chronic UTIs do not need treatment unless you have symptoms that indicate an infection (fever, back pain, etc.).

Acute UTI symptoms can occur within 5 to 7 days of the initial infection and may include a fever and/or cloudy or smelly urine. You should see your doctor about these kinds of symptoms within 7 days if they don’t go away on their own.

Both acute and chronic UTI symptoms may require antibiotics to treat them (if they are bacterial infections).

If all you have are acute symptoms, your doctor may recommend taking a course of antibiotics to resolve the infection. If you have chronic symptoms, your doctor may recommend a different treatment.

What happens if I don’t treat an infection?

If you don’t get treated for a UTI within 7 days, it’s very likely that your condition will become worse. As an example, bacterial UTIs are more likely to cause kidney damage than bladder infections or yeast infections. Untreated urinary tract infection can lead to kidney failure and be life-threatening.

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It can also make it harder for your bladder to make urine in the future (compare this with a broken bone that takes longer to heal than a fresh fracture).

Another problem is that UTIs tend to come in clusters. Even after you are treated for a first UTI, you may find that you have symptoms again, not from the same infection site but from another area of your urinary tract (bladder, urethra or kidneys).

Since bacteria are so good at spreading from one part of your body to another, new infections can take hold quickly.

So if you have experienced one UTI episode in the past year and now get a new infection, it’s very likely that it will be a different infection site (kidneys instead of the bladder) than the first one was.

The take-home message here is that urinary tract infections should never go untreated. The longer an infection goes untreated, the greater the risk of permanent health problems.

What do I do if I think I have a UTI?

First, you should be aware that not all urinary symptoms are caused by an infection. Sometimes what feels like a urinary tract infection may actually be a common bladder or kidney problem (like interstitial cystitis, pelvic floor dysfunction or chronic prostatitis).

If you have other symptoms in addition to pain and/or burning on urination, it’s important to see your doctor for screening tests. When you get medical help, your doctor will perform diagnostic tests to determine if you have a UTI and what type of bacteria are causing it.

If your doctor thinks you do have a UTI, he or she will give you an antibiotic to take. However, only 20 to 50 per cent of infections are bacterial. You may be prescribed several courses of antibiotics over time if your symptoms return after treatment.

What complications can UTIs cause?

Left untreated, UTIs can lead to serious complications that may cause permanent damage, such as:

Kidney infections – Up to 7 per cent of people who get a UTI develop kidney infections — especially people with diabetes, who are older than 65 or who have kidney problems already. Kidney infections almost always require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics for treatment.

Bladder scarring – 2 to 15 per cent of people with UTIs end up having bladder scars, which can cause long term problems like frequent urinary tract infections (recurrent UTIs).

Infertility – up to 25 per cent of women with recurrent UTIs have irreversible damage to their female reproductive system, which can make it difficult for them to become pregnant.

Always call your doctor if you have any neck, chest, or abdominal pain. If your doctor does not give you a diagnosis within 24 hours, get better care or seek emergency care. UTIs are especially common in older patients and in diabetics. Symptoms, including neck, chest, or abdominal pain.

If your doctor does not give you a diagnosis within 24 hours, get better care or seek emergency care.

Remember, UTIs are among the most common medical problems , but they don’t cause urgent medical concerns. When you’re feeling mild to moderate symptoms, you should feel comfortable seeing your doctor. This is especially true if you have signs of possible kidney infection (increased urination or blood in urine) and/or abdominal pain (lumbar pain).

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What can I do to prevent Urinary tract infection?

To prevent a UTI:

Be sure to have regular checkups and screenings. If your doctor recommends a screening test, he or she will use an interpretive urine dipstick that can show if you have an infection of some kind.

All health care providers know that even with screening tests, there’s still a chance for a UTI. So if you have any symptoms that may indicate you have an infection — fever, back pain, burning on urination or blood in the urine — your provider should definitely take further steps to evaluate you for possible infection.

However, if you are told that your urine results are normal, then you should not expect another test unless (or until) you experience symptoms.

Be sure to drink enough fluids. Only drink plenty of fluids if your urine output is normal. If your urine output is not normal (for example, you have a low urine output), try to increase it by drinking more water and fluids.

Limit sugar intake and eat healthily. Sugary foods and drinks can make your urine more acidic and increase the chances that you will experience UTIs. Eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, and unsaturated fats will help with urinary tract health.

Sugary foods: Sugary foods and drinks can make your urine more acidic and increase the chances that you will experience UTIs. Eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, and unsaturated fats will help with urinary tract health.

Use clean toilet seats. Always use a toilet seat cover when using public restrooms to avoid exposure to bacteria on the toilet seat itself.

Wear cotton underwear. Wearing cotton underwear can help prevent irritation and chafing in your genital area and thus promoting good urinary tract health.

Drink cranberry juice or take a cranberry supplement often. Cranberry juice is known for its anti-microbial properties, but there’s still no scientific proof that drinking it can actually cure a UTI.

If you have insurance, ask your doctor to recommend a good UTI testing program. UTI testing programs at many hospitals are free or very low cost for patients. But if you do not have insurance and are uninsured, you will likely not be able to afford such tests without help from your local community.

In this case, ask your doctor to recommend a good testing program in your area. If possible, develop a relationship with one of the providers at this testing centre so they know how to treat your specific condition and can provide follow-up care if necessary.

Musasi Isaac Christopher

An aspiring Lifestyle blogger who specializes in health, food and restaurant sectors. WhatsApp me on +256759100143.