Quick Fact: A UTI is NOT an STI
How do I know if I have a Urinary Tract Infection?
First, to understand bacterial urinary tract infections (UTI), you need to know what the urinary tract is. Urine is your body’s way of filtering out salts and waste products. Usually urine has no bacteria, otherwise known as sterile. Urine, or pee, starts forming in the kidneys, travels down the ureters, and into the bladder. When urine exits the body, it passes through the urethra – a small tube from the bladder to the outside of the body.
There are three types of UTIs. Depending on the type of UTI, a person can experience different symptoms. The most common UTI is in the bladder and causes discomfort.
You may feel:
- The need to pee (urinate) a lot
- Feeling the need to go to the bathroom and very little or no urine comes out
- Pain, discomfort or a burning sensation during urination
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- In girls, pain above the pubic bone
- In boys, a full feeling in the rectum
- Bloody, cloudy, or smelly urine
- Fever, chills
- Feeling tired or shaky
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in the back, around the waist
If you are experiencing any symptoms like these, see your healthcare provider.
How can I get it?
Sometimes bacteria, like E. Coli, can enter the body by the urethra and get into the bladder or kidneys. When bacteria begin multiplying in the bladder or kidneys, this is called a UTI or Urinary Tract Infection. UTIs are more common in people with vaginas because the urethra is shorter and closer to the rectum and vagina, so bacteria can enter more easily.
UTIs are NOT transmitted during sexual contact – you can’t get a UTI from someone else. However, during sex, bacteria from the vaginal area can enter the urethra and into the bladder where the bacteria begin to grow – leading to a UTI.
After a bowel movement, wiping back to front can result in a UTI as well. When wiped towards the urethra, bacteria in stool can enter and cause an infection. So, wipe front to back every time!
Using spermicides (or condoms treated with spermicide) and diaphragms may cause more UTIs too.
Again, remember UTIs are NOT STDs. There is no way to get a UTI from another person.
How can I get treated?
If you are experiencing symptoms of a UTI, see your health care provider. Your health care provider may collect a sample of your urine. UTIs can only be treated with antibiotics. The antibiotics will kill the bacteria but sometimes the symptoms will continue for a few days. For that, there are painkillers specifically for UTIs, although they do turn your pee orange. Normal painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen should work just fine too.
Also, avoiding sexual intercourse for a week or more may help inflammation and the pain to go away.
During your treatment, drink lots of water. Stay hydrated! Drinking 100% cranberry juice is helpful too. Remember to look out for 100% cranberry juice though – most juices say they are cranberry juice but really they are made of very little cranberry juice and a lot of sugar. The high levels of sugar in these juices can actually cause more problems if you have a UTI. Try to avoid coffee and spicy or salty foods, which make you less hydrated.
If you smoke, it’s always a good idea to quit smoking, especially if you have a UTI or keep getting UTIs. Smoking can cause bladder problems. See our section on tobacco here. Alcohol can also dehydrate you, so avoiding that is good too.
What happens if I don’t get treated?
The sooner you get treated for UTIs, the sooner they disappear. A urinary tract infection can become very severe if it gets into your kidneys. If there is an untreated kidney infection, it can lead to kidney damage, or even develop into a blood infection, which are both life-threatening.
How do I avoid getting a UTI?
- Go to the bathroom often, don’t hold in urine for a long time.
- Keep the genital area clean and dry. For example, don’t prolong wearing wet swimsuits or nylon underwear. Using underwear with cotton crotches are best.
- If sexually active, go to the bathroom both before and after sex, wash (no douching!) the genital area and use a water-soluble lubricant.
- Don’t using vaginal perfumes or douches.
- Don’t use strong, perfumed soaps or take bubble baths that irritate the vaginal area.
- Change tampons and pads regularly during periods.