UTI prevention and treatment options

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common. About 60% of women and 12% of men will have at least one UTI in their lifetime.1 And 1 in 4 women are likely to experience a repeat infection.2

UTIs certainly aren’t fun. Dealing with one can be a painful, irritating experience. But spotting the signs early — and getting treatment right away — can help prevent more serious complications. Plus, there are ways to help prevent UTIs in the first place. Here’s what to know.

What is a UTI?

A UTI is an infection that occurs in the urinary tract. It can develop in any part of it, including the urethra, bladder, ureters or kidneys.2

A UTI usually happens when bacteria enter the urinary tract from outside the body. The bacteria can come from the skin, like the rectum area. They go into the urethra — the opening that allows urine to exit the body — and travel up the urinary tract.1

The bacteria may infect different areas of the urinary tract and cause different types of UTIs. Bladder infections are the most common type, also known as cystitis. A kidney infection is a form of UTI – it’s a less common, more serious infection.3

What are the signs and symptoms of UTIs?

It’s important to recognize the signs of a UTI — the sooner a person realizes that they might have an infection, the sooner treatment can begin. The most typical symptoms of a UTI include:3

  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling the need to urinate despite having an empty bladder
  • Bloody urine, which may appear as bright red blood or smoky or cloudy urine
  • Pressure or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen

A person might have only one of these symptoms or a few of them, and the symptoms also can present differently in certain groups of people, reports Debera H. Eggleston, M.D., an internist in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For example, “some people with a UTI, such as older individuals, can have nontypical symptoms, including fatigue, loss of appetite, drowsiness, dizziness and falls,” Dr. Eggleston says.

UTIs can also happen in children. But younger kids may struggle to explain their symptoms. If they’re complaining of pain when they urinate, it may be a UTI. Fever is another common symptom of UTIs in children, though most children with a fever have it for some other reason. If parents are worried that their child may have a UTI, it’s recommended that they talk to the child’s health care professional.3

What are the risk factors of a UTI?

Anybody can get a urinary tract infection. But certain factors can raise the chances. These include:

  • Gender. UTIs are more common in women than men. Their urethras are shorter and located just above the vaginal opening. This places the urethra closer to the rectum. Bacteria can more easily enter the urethra from either area, which can lead to an infection.Of course, men can get UTIs too. For men, a UTI might be related to a health issue. For example, having an enlarged prostate may increase risk for UTIs in men.3
  • Sexual activity. Having sexual intercourse can introduce bacteria into the urethra. For women, bacteria can transfer from the nearby vagina to the urethra.4
  • Menopause. This causes bacterial changes in the vagina that can result in UTIs.3
  • Birth control. The use of spermicides and birth control like diaphragms can cause changes in the vaginal flora, leading to changes in the bacteria there.2
  • Age. Young children are more likely to get UTIs. For kids, poor hygiene while potty-training is one cause.3

How is a UTI diagnosed?

Always seek out a health care professional’s opinion if you think you have a UTI. The health care provider will discuss UTI symptoms and perform a physical exam if the visit is in-person. If the visit is virtual, your physician will ask for symptoms.

They’ll typically ask for a urine sample for analysis. After the urine sample is tested, they’ll know whether you have a UTI or not. 

How is a UTI treated?

A short course of an antibiotic is the typical way to treat a basic UTI. Symptoms of UTIs often improve within a few days of taking antibiotics. For more complicated UTI, further treatment is needed.1

People should also drink lots of fluids to help flush out bacteria.4 “That could include about 6 to 8 glasses of water per day,” Dr. Eggleston says.

For postmenopausal women with recurring UTIs, hormone replacement may also be used in treatment.5

Can a UTI be prevented?

There are things that can help prevent UTIs. Follow these tips to help avoid an infection:3

  • As a woman, always make sure to wipe front to back after using the bathroom.
  • Urinate after sexual activity.
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Minimize douching and using sprays or powders in the genital area, which can introduce harmful bacteria.

UTIs can be uncomfortable. But knowing the signs and risk factors can mean spotting one sooner — and getting relief right away.

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