In a bladder infection, bacteria invade and overgrow in the bladder. Sometimes the bacteria can take hold in the kidneys or the tubes that drain urine from the kidneys to the bladder. These conditions are all known as urianary tract infections, or UTIs. They are more common in women than in men.
Most UTIs can be cured easily with antibiotic drugs.
Symptoms of UTIs
The symptoms of a bladder infection tend to come on suddenly and include:
- painful urination and a burning sensation
- needing to urinate frequently
- sudden urges to empty your bladder, called urinary urgency
- pain in your central lower abdomen, just above the pubic bone
- blood in your urine
Symptoms of a UTI that involves the kidneys include the following, in addition to the preceding ones:
- pain in your sides or back that doesn’t change when you change position
- fever and chills
- nausea and vomiting
Certain symptoms in addition to those of a UTI could mean you have a prostate infection (prostatitis). These include:
- difficulty urinating or “dribbling”
- pain in your pelvis or the area between your rectum and scrotum (perineum)
Causes of UTIs
Most UTIs are caused by the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli), which is naturally present in your body. The bacterium gets into the urinary tract through the urethra. The urethra is the tube that drains urine from your bladder through your penis.
UTIs are more common in women than in men because their urethra is shorter and the bacteria need to travel a shorter distance to reach their bladder. It’s unlikely for a man to catch a UTI from having sex with a woman, because the infection is typically from bacteria already present in the man’s urinary tract.
UTIs in men are more common with older age. One reason is that older men are more likely to develop noncancerous enlargement of their prostate gland, called benign prostatic hyperplasia. The prostate wraps around the neck of the bladder, where the urethra connects to the bladder. Enlargement of the prostate gland can choke off the bladder neck, making it harder for urine to flow freely. If the bladder doesn’t empty completely, bacteria that are normally flushed out with the urine might gain a foothold.
Other factors that can put you at greater risk for UTIs include the following:
- being immobile for long periods
- not drinking enough fluids
- recent urinary tract surgery
- being uncircumcised
- fecal incontinence
- engaging in anal intercourse, which exposes the urethra to more bacteria
To diagnose a UTI, your doctor will examine you and ask about symptoms, including any past history of UTIs. You may be asked to provide a urine sample to check for pus and bacteria. The presence of pus strongly points to a UTI.
If your doctor suspects an enlarged prostate gland, they may do a digital rectal exam, using a gloved finger to feel your prostate gland through the wall of your rectum.
Treatment for UTIs
If you have a UTI, you will need to take antibiotic medications. Depending on the type of antibiotic your doctor prescribes, you will take the pills either once or twice a day for five to seven or more days.
It’s also important to drink adequate fluids. You may be tempted to reduce your fluid intake if urinating is uncomfortable. Urination can help flush the bacteria from your system. Stay hydrated and urinate often while taking your antibiotics.
Many people drink cranberry juice during UTIs in hopes of clearing the infection. Lab experiments with mice showed that several substances in cranberry juice lowered bacteria count in the bladder. However, there is no strong evidence that drinking cranberry juice during a UTI eliminates the infection or speeds recovery. Learn more about the benefits of cranberry juice.
Recovering from UTIs
After starting antibiotics, you should feel noticeably better within two to three days. If your symptoms don’t clear up after taking antibiotics, see your doctor.
It’s important to finish all antibiotics prescribed, even if you’re feeling better. Stopping your antibiotics prematurely can encourage growth of bacteria resistant to common antibiotics. In effect, less than the full course of treatment kills off the “weak” bacteria, leaving the stronger and more resistant strains.
To prevent UTIs, the most important thing is to reduce the chance of bacteria invading your urinary tract. Steps you can take include the following:
- Urinate when you feel the need. Don’t “hold it in.”
- Drink adequate fluids. For most people, that means drinking when thirsty and drinking during meals. When it’s hot and you’re active in hot weather, drink a little extra water. All fluids count toward being sufficiently hydrated, including soft drinks, coffee, and tea. Learn more about daily water intake recommendations.
- During toileting, wipe from front to back.
- Keep your genital area clean and dry.
UTIs in men are less common than in women but have similar causes and treatment. Taking antibiotic medications usually clears the infection in five to seven days. Men who have prolonged UTIs, or UTIs that come back frequently, should be evaluated by a doctor for conditions like an infection in their prostate gland (prostatitis).
Q&A: UTI home treatments
Is it possible to treat a UTI at home without the use of antibiotics?
It isn’t recommended to attempt treatment of a UTI at home without antibiotics. Most UTIs don’t resolve without some sort of antibiotic, and delaying treatment can lead to complications, such as kidney infection (pyelonephritis) and sepsis. If you believe you have a UTI, it’s best to visit a doctor and have a urine test performed soon after developing symptoms.Daniel Murrell, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.