Urinary Tract Infections: Information for Women
A urinary tract infection (UTI) refers to the presence of microorganisms, most often bacteria, in the urinary tract. Most UTI's are caused by bacteria such as E. coli.
The urinary tract includes the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder, and the urethra (see diagram). A UTI may involve one or more of these parts. Most often, infection in the bladder is called lower urinary tract infection and those in the kidneys and ureters are called upper urinary tract infections.
It has been estimated that between 10 to 20% of women have a urinary tract infection at some point in their lives. As we age, the number of UTIs may increase. Some women are more prone to UTIs and have them more often. These infections can be cured with antibiotic drugs. There are things you can do that may prevent future UTIs.
This handout will explain signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of UTIs, along with risk factors, and hints to prevent more UTIs.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptoms of a UTI are pain while passing urine (dysuria), going to the bathroom often, having a strong urge to pass urine, abdominal, back or side (flank) pain. Other signs and symptoms may include blood-tinged urine, cloudy urine, fever, chills, and nausea.
Testing and Diagnosis
Your health care provider makes a diagnosis based on your symptoms. You may also need a urine test, urinalysis (UA) and a urine culture to confirm the presence of infection. The UA is a microscopic exam of your urine. This exam is used to find out if there are any red or white blood cells or bacteria in our urine. Sometimes it is hard to diagnose a UTI because other infections (i.e., of the vagina) can mimic the signs and symptoms of a UTI. In these cases, a pelvic exam may be needed.
Most often UTIs are treated with antibioitcs. Your health care provider will decide on the length of time you will need to take the antibiotics. You may need treatment for 3 days to two weeks.
It is important to take all of the medicine even though you may feel better. If you stop treatment too early, the infection may still be present or it could come back.
To feel better faster drink 10 to 15 glasses of fluids each day. This will dilute your urine and cause you to go to the bathroom more often, which will flush out the bacteria. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and intercourse during the treatment period. These can further irritate the bladder.
Women are more prone to UTIs than men. In a woman, the urethra, the vagina and the rectum are close to each other. This allows for the bacteria from the rectum and vagina to transfer to the urethra. Factors that may put a woman at increased risk for a UTI include recent catheterization, sexual intercourse, diaphragm or cervical cap use, pregnancy, diabetes, having had UTIs as a child, and being postmenopausal.
You can’t prevent all UTIs, but here are some ideas that may help you to avoid having so many.
1. Wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom or having a bowel movement.
2. Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid (decaffeinated) a day. Caffeine irritates the bladder.
3. Empty your bladder before and after intercourse.
4. Void when you have the urge to pass water or at least every 2 to 3 hours.
5. Wash your perianal area with soap and water daily.
6. Wear cotton or cotton crotched underwear. Avoid tight clothing.
7. Change out of wet swim suits and wear dry, cotton underwear.
8. Try different positions during sex that cause less friction to the urethra (opening of the urine channel).
If you have many UTIs (4 or more a year), consult with your health care provider about the need for more testing, switching to other forms of birth control or preventative (prophylactic) treatment with antibiotics.
If you have signs or symptoms of urinary tract infection, see your health care provider for prompt treatment.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 06/19/2012
Copyright © 06/19/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4286
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