A urinary tract infection (UTI) happens when bacteria, usually from your genital or anal area, gets into your urinary tract. UTIs are more common in women, but can affect men as well.
Most UTIs affect the bladder. This is called cystitis. Infections in the bladder can also spread to your kidneys. This is called pyelonephritis, and it’s a more serious condition.
UTIs have several symptoms, including abdominal cramps. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at cramps caused by a UTI, and how to relieve this symptom.
Where does this pain come from? The bacteria that cause a UTI can invade the lining of your urinary tract. This, in turn, can lead to inflammation and irritation. Additionally, urine provides a good medium in which these bacteria can continue to multiply.
In addition to cramps, some other symptoms of a UTI include:
- a painful or burning sensation when you urinate
- frequent urination
- cloudy urine
- foul-smelling urine
- feeling like you have to urinate even though your bladder is empty (“urgency”)
- blood in your urine
Signs of a kidney infection
It’s possible that a UTI can move from your bladder to your kidneys, causing a more serious infection called pyelonephritis. Symptoms can include:
If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away. If left untreated, pyelonephritis can lead to kidney damage and, more rarely, sepsis, which can be life-threatening.
UTIs are treated with antibiotics. While you’ll often find that your symptoms begin to get better shortly after starting antibiotics, it’s important to finish the entire antibiotic course. This helps ensure your infection is completely cleared.
As you recover, you can try the following home remedies to help relieve UTI cramps:
- Use a heating pad: Applying a heating pad to your abdomen or lower back may help to ease cramping.
- Drink water: Drinking water not only keeps you hydrated, but can also help dilute your urine and flush bacteria from your urinary tract.
- Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications: OTC pain medications like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help to soothe pain from a UTI.
If you have symptoms of a UTI, see your doctor. They can use a urine test to determine if bacteria are present in your urine. If you do have a UTI, a course of antibiotics can help to clear up your infection.
If a UTI is left untreated, the infection may spread from your bladder to your kidneys. This can lead to serious complications like kidney damage and sepsis.
It’s also important to remember that cramping and pain in your lower abdomen can be caused by other health conditions as well. Some examples of conditions that cause abdominal cramps or pain include:
- sexually-transmitted infections (STIs)
- kidney stones
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Crohn’s disease
- ulcerative colitis
- menstrual cramps
- uterine fibroids
- ovarian cysts
Follow up with your doctor if your cramping isn’t relieved after you finish your course of antibiotics. It’s possible that your infection may not have cleared up or another underlying health condition may be causing your symptoms.
You can take steps in your daily life to help lower your risk of getting a UTI. Let’s explore some of the steps that may help.
- Go when you have to: Holding in your urine for too long can promote the buildup of bacteria.
- Urinate after sex: Urinating shortly after sex can prevent a UTI by flushing away any bacteria that may have entered your urinary tract.
- Get enough fluids: Drinking enough fluids helps prevent UTIs by diluting your urine and increasing how often you urinate. This discourages bacteria from accumulating in your urinary tract.
- Wipe front to back: Be sure to wipe front to back, after urinating (women) and a bowel movement to prevent bacteria in the anal area from getting into your urinary tract.
- Consider clothing: Wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting pants can help to keep the area around your urethra dry, which can curb bacterial growth.
- Avoid scented feminine hygiene products: Scented products may irritate and disrupt the natural microbial balance of your genital area, increasing the risk of a UTI.
- Switch your birth control method: Diaphragms, unlubricated condoms, and spermicides can all increase your risk for a UTI. If you find that you get frequent UTIs, speak to your doctor about other birth control methods.
- Choose showers instead of baths: Soaking in a bath may increase your risk of getting a UTI.
- Use cranberry products with caution: Cranberry products have long been promoted as a way to prevent UTIs. However, research into the effectiveness of this preventative method
has been inconsistent.
Cramps are a common symptom of a UTI. You’ll typically feel them in your pelvic area or lower back. In addition to cramps, you may also feel pressure or soreness in this area.
Antibiotics are used to treat a UTI. While you’re recovering, you can help ease UTI cramps by applying heat to your abdomen, taking OTC medications, and drinking plenty of water.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you think that you have a UTI. If left untreated, the infection can spread to your kidneys and become more serious.