12 Signs and Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Urinary Tract Infection

UTI facts:

Bacteria that normally live in the colon or rectum are the usual causes of (UTI).

UTI can affect any part of the urinary system. This includes the bladder, urethra, ureters and the kidneys.

This infection occurs when bacteria enter the urethra and start multiplying in the bladder.

UTIs are among the most common infections in humans. It places second to respiratory infections as the most common type of infection.

Due to anatomy, women are more at risk for a UTI than men because their urethras are shorter. This gives bacteria less distance to travel before they can infect the urinary tracts and cause symptoms. The opening of a woman’s urethra is very close to the vagina and anus.

In addition, The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 50% of women develop a urinary tract infection in their lifetimes. A number of those will deal with recurrent UTIs.

Men rarely experience UTI. Around 3 percent of men worldwide are estimated to be affected by UTI each year. Most men are unlikely to experience a UTI, especially if they are young.

It should be noted, however, that urinary tract infections are much more common in adults than in children. About 1%-2% of children will get urinary tract infections. 

Nevertheless, urinary tract infections in children are more likely to be serious than those in adults.

Although most UTIs are not serious, they are painful.

Urinary tract infections are not contagious.

Diagnostic tools:

Urinary tract infections are primarily diagnosed through the information that patients give about their symptoms.

Additionally, their medical and surgical history, medications, habits, and lifestyle will also be reviewed.

Physical examinations and lab tests will also be done to complete the evaluation. Common tests include over the counter dipsticks, lab culture, and urinalysis.

A urine culture test result usually takes a few days to come back. The results will indicate the exact bacteria causing the infection.

A doctor can also perform a simple urine dipstick exam. This test is done by dipping a thin, plastic strip treated with chemicals to a patient’s urine sample. The chemicals on the stick will react and change color. Doctors can then use the result as additional diagnostic information.

Further testing includes ultrasound, cystoscopy, and MRI or CT scans. Urologists, if needed, can perform a cystoscopy. This procedure uses a long, thin instrument to look inside the urethra and bladder.

UTI treatment:

The course of treatment depends on the cause of the UTI. Test results can help confirm which organism is causing the infection.

Most cases of UTIs are due to bacteria and would need antibiotics. Rare viral UTIs are treated with antiviral medications. Fungal infections are treated with antifungal medications.

UTIs are often mild and can resolve by itself. Additional fluid intake and mild over-the-counter pain relievers can help with some of the symptoms.

However, if the symptoms do not go away within two days, a short course of antibiotics would be needed.

UTI symptoms:

1. Burning or painful urination

People with UTI often feel a burning sensation when they urinate. This symptom is one of the key signs that a person may have a urinary tract infection.

Burning urination or painful urination is medically known as dysuria. It can be caused by infectious and noninfectious conditions.

A urinary tract infection makes the lining of the bladder and urethra become red and irritated.

In addition to the burning sensation, there is also an itchy or stinging feeling as the urine comes out. The pain can be felt at the start of urination or after urination.

Pain is often felt in the urethra. These are the tubes that carry urine to the bladder. The pain can also extend to the area around the genitals.

2. Urinary urgency

Urinary urgency is another telltale symptom of a urinary tract infection.

This is the sensation that the bladder must be emptied immediately. The overwhelming need to urinate can come quickly at any time.

This can be attributed to the sudden pressure build-up within the bladder. The pressure makes it difficult to hold in the urine.

In addition to that, urinary urgency can happen whether the bladder is full or not. It can get so bad that it can even wake a person from sleep.  

Bacteria can enter the bladder through the urethra. This causes bladder irritation. The bladder muscles experience involuntary contractions which causes a sudden urge to urinate.

3. Increased frequency of urination

Urinary tract infection is one of the most common causes of frequent urination.

Frequent urination (urinary frequency) is defined as the need to urinate more than usual.  This symptom is often confused with urinary urgency. It is an inconvenient symptom that can greatly disrupt daily life for a person with UTI.

The byproducts of the infection will create inflammation and irritation in the linings of the urethra and bladder. As a result, the irritation of the bladder wall creates the urge to empty the bladder frequently. 

Furthermore, the bladder also often feels full. During each trip to the bathroom, the amount of urine is often less than the usual amount.

The bladder also sends confusing signals to the brain. The body would feel the need to pee even when the bladder might not be full.

Typically, the bladder can often hold as much as 600 ml of urine (about 2 ½ cups). The urge to urinate is usually felt when the bladder contains about 150 ml of urine (just over ½ cup).

Most people urinate between 4 to 8 times, depending on fluid intake, over a 24-hour period.

4. Incontinence

Incontinence is not a disease but a symptom of several health issues like urinary tract infection.

Urinary incontinence, or the lack of bladder control, can be an embarrassing condition. Many people who experience urinary incontinence do not often disclose this symptom due to embarrassment.

This symptom can leave significant physical, functional and psychological consequences in affected individuals.

The sphincter and bladder wall work together to control the flow of urine. The bladder wall muscle squeezes to force urine out of the bladder. The sphincter relaxes to allow urine to pass. When there is an infection, the bladder muscles contract at the wrong times. This results in urine leaking.

In addition, pain and discomfort associated with a urinary tract infection can also instigate incontinence.

5. Blood in urine

Blood in the urine, or hematuria, occurs when bacteria infect the inner linings of the urinary tract. The inflammation and irritation cause red blood cells to leak into the urine.

There are two kinds of hematuria. First is the microscopic hematuria. Urine will contain small amounts of blood. These are not visible to the naked eye. A microscope can help determine the presence of blood.

Second is gross hematuria. This is when there is enough blood to change the color of urine. It may become red, pink or cola-colored.

It’s important to note that discoloration is not always due to blood. Eating certain foods can give urine a pinkish to red color. Some medications have the same effect as well.

This symptom isn’t painful and should not be a cause for major alarm. However, to resolve the condition, a doctor should check it.

6. Cloudy urine

Cloudy or milky urine often signals a problem. Normal and healthy urine should have a light yellow to an amber hue.

Pyuria is a condition wherein the urine appears cloudy or milky.  It frequently indicates the presence of a urinary tract infection.  UTI is one of the main causes of pyuria. Other conditions include dehydration, , diabetes, and sexually transmitted diseases.

The cloudy appearance is a result of excess white blood cells or pus in the urine. During the onset of infection, the immune system responds by sending white blood cells. The white blood cells congregate in the area and fight to curb the infection.

As a result, the buildup of white blood cells mixes with urine and is then excreted with it as pus.

7. Pelvic pain in women

Pelvic pain is pain below the belly button in the anterior lower abdomen including the sex organs. A lot goes on in the pelvic area. It’s home to the bowel, bladder, ovaries, uterus or womb and more. Thus, women with UTI are most likely to experience pain within their pelvic regions.

Pelvic pain is often described as achy or as intense pressure in the area. It can perhaps even spread to the back. The pain often worsens if the bladder is full.

The pelvic pain can sometimes be so severe that relieving can become overwhelmingly uncomfortable.

The inflammation of the linings of the bladder and surrounding tissues causes the pain. 

8. Rectal pain in men

Men with this UTI symptom would feel a fullness in the rectal area.

Urinary tract infections in men may develop in the urethra (the tube that runs from the opening at the tip of the penis to the bladder), the bladder, prostate, or the kidney.

Men are less common to get bladder infections than women. This is because men have a longer urethra. Hence, the bacteria find it hard to get into the bladder. When bacteria from a UTI make their way to the prostate, it can result in prostatitis.

Prostatitis is the swelling and inflammation of the prostate gland. This causes pain between the scrotum and anus (the perineum), in the lower back, penis, or testes.  

9. Urine that has a strong odor

Urine contains water and a small concentration of waste products. It typically has a subtle odor of its own. While urine odor may vary, it does not have a strong smell.

When there is an infection in the urinary tract, the urine may take on a foul-smelling odor. The main cause of the smell is bacterial overgrowth. Pus and/or blood from the infection may also contribute to the strong smell.

Bacteria can contaminate urine. This will result in a fishy and unpleasant odor. In some women, urine can come with a strong ammonia smell, or foul.

In addition, slightly sweet-smelling urine is often the first indication that UTI may be present.

10. Fever and chills

Fever is the body’s way of dealing with an infection. The rise in body temperature kills off infection-causing germs. Chills are the shaking, shivering and cold feeling that often comes with a high fever. 

A person with UTI may experience fevers and chills. Fever occurs when bacteria that has caused the urinary tract infection has already reached the kidneys. Because of that, kidney infection begins.

UTI doesn’t normally cause flu-like symptoms. When it spreads to the kidneys, the immune systems would start to work overtime. This results in fever.

Fever and chills are symptoms that indicate that the infection has become more severe and advanced than a typical UTI.  If fever reaches104° F (40° C), it is advisable to go seek medical help especially if it involves children.

11. Feeling tired

The body’s immune system goes into overdrive when there is an infection present. White blood cells are released to fight off the foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses and other toxins. As a result of the immune response, the body may feel tired, shaky, drained and weak.

Pain, burning, and irritability are the most common signs of a urinary tract infection. But some symptoms aren’t as quickly linked to UTI.  Symptoms like fatigue or extreme exhaustion.

Silent UTI is a kind of urinary tract infection wherein the usual UTI symptoms are less or not noticeable. Some even have no symptoms present. Due to this, UTI becomes untreated.

Fatigue is one symptom of a silent UTI.

12. Nausea and vomiting

Vomiting and vomiting are not illnesses themselves but are both nonspecific symptoms. This means they can have a wide variety of possible causes.

In UTI, there is a rule that the farther up in the urinary tract the infection is located, the more serious it becomes. Additional symptoms apart from those of the usual UTI symptoms start to appear. Nausea and vomiting are such symptoms of infections of the upper urinary tract.

Generally, this means that the bacteria that has caused the UTI has already reached the kidneys. The inflammation of the kidneys due to bacterial infection is medically known as pyelonephritis.

An upper UTI infection is often more serious because of the threat of kidney damage if left untreated.

Nausea and vomiting may be minimal to severe. It usually develops over hours or over the course of a day.