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It was a normal day at work, but I was tired and felt like I had to pass urine the whole day. But when I went to the bathroom, not much came out. When I did pass urine, it burned and smelled bad — and looked cloudy too. These problems lasted a few days. So I called my doctor, and she said it sounded like a urinary tract infection, or UTI. I went to her office, and she asked me to pass urine into a cup. She tested the urine and told me I had a UTI. She called my drug store and ordered pills for me. I took all of the pills she prescribed, and then the UTI and the symptoms were gone.
A UTI is an infection anywhere in the urinary tract. The urinary tract makes and stores urine and removes it from the body. Parts of the urinary tract include:
Bacteria (bak-TIHR-ee-uh), a type of germ that gets into your urinary tract, cause a UTI. This can happen in many ways:
If you have an infection, you may have some or all of these signs:
To find out if you have a UTI, your doctor will need to test a clean sample of your urine. The doctor or nurse will give you a clean plastic cup and a special wipe. Wash your hands before opening the cup. When you open the cup, don't touch the inside of the lid or inside of the cup. Put the cup in easy reach. Separate the labia, the outer lips of the vagina, with one hand. With your other hand, clean the genital area with the wipe. Wipe from front to back. Do not touch or wipe the anus. While still holding the labia open, pass a little bit of urine into the toilet. Then, catch the rest in the cup. This is called a “clean-catch” sample. Let the rest of the urine fall into the toilet.
If you are prone to UTIs, your doctor may want to take pictures of your urinary tract with an x-ray or ultrasound. These pictures can show swelling, stones, or blockage. Your doctor also may want to look inside your bladder using a cystoscope (SISS-tuh-skohp). It is a small tube that's put into the urethra to see inside of the urethra and bladder.
UTIs are treated with antibiotics (an-tuh-beye-OT-iks), medicines that kill the bacteria that cause the infection. Your doctor will tell you how long you need to take the medicine. Make sure you take all of your medicine, even if you feel better! Many women feel better in one or two days.
If you don't take medicine for a UTI, the UTI can hurt other parts of your body. Also, if you're pregnant and have signs of a UTI, see your doctor right away. A UTI could cause problems in your pregnancy, such as having your baby too early or getting high blood pressure. Also, UTIs in pregnant women are more likely to travel to the kidneys.
If treated right away, a UTI is not likely to damage your kidneys or urinary tract. But UTIs that are not treated can cause serious problems in your kidneys and the rest of your body.
These are steps you can take to try to prevent a UTI. But you may follow these steps and still get a UTI. If you have symptoms of a UTI, call your doctor.
About one in five women who get UTIs will get another one. Some women get three or more UTIs a year. If you are prone to UTIs, ask your doctor about your treatment options. Your doctor may ask you to take a small dose of medicine every day to prevent infection. Or, your doctor might give you a supply of antibiotics to take after sex or at the first sign of infection. “Dipsticks” can help test for UTIs at home. They are useful for some women with repeat UTIs. Ask your doctor if you should use dipsticks at home to test for UTI. Your doctor may also want to do special tests to see what is causing repeat infections. Ask about them.
For more information about urinary tract infection, call womenshealth.gov at 800-994-9662 (TDD: 888-220-5446) or contact the following organizations:
Urinary tract infection fact sheet was reviewed by:
Magda Barini-García, M.D., M.P.H.
Senior Medical Advisor
Center for Quality
Health Resources and Services Administration
Kristene Whitmore, M.D.
Director, Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute
Content last updated: December 23, 2014