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Female Urinary Tract Infections

A urinary tract infection (UTI) involves the bladder, and sometimes the kidneys.

What is UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) involves the bladder, and sometimes the kidneys. The most common type of UTI in females involves only the bladder (called cystitis), and is caused by bacteria which normally inhabit the large intestine. The bacteria reach the bladder by ascending the urethra from the urinary opening, which is above the vaginal opening and the anus.

Most commonly a UTI occurs following sexual intercourse. Bacteria are pushed into the bladder with intercourse. Although associated with sexual activity, cystitis is not a sexually transmitted disease. Men are much less likely to get a bladder infection because of their longer urethra, and the evaluation and treatment of a male would be different from that described here.

What are the symptoms?

  • Burning or pain on urination (dysuria)
  • Feeling like you have to urinate all the time (urgency)
  • Urinating small amounts frequently (frequency)
  • Occasionally, you may pass blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Abdominal pain, back pain, or fever may also occur.

How is a UTI diagnosed?

The diagnosis or detection of a UTI is made by a laboratory examination of the urine called a urinalysis. Finding bacteria and white blood cells in the urine is strong indication of a UTI.

A urine culture may be done to identify the specific bacteria causing the infection, and results usually take 48 hours to return. Sometimes a pelvic exam is also required to fully evaluate the symptoms of a UTI.

How is a UTI treated?

If a UTI is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical exam, and urinalysis, an antibiotic will be prescribed. The full course of treatment should be taken as prescribed even though symptoms may resolve before treatment is completed. A small number of bacteria may remain to cause a recurrence of the infection if the full course of antibiotic treatment is not taken.

Treatment may also include a local anesthetic: Pyridium (a prescription drug) or Azo-Standard (a nonprescription medication). This medication is for comfort only and does not treat the infection itself. The medication will turn the urine bright orange. The pain-relieving medication may be stopped when symptoms improve but all of the antibiotics must be taken. It is best to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated beverages which irritate the bladder. It is also advisable to refrain from sexual activity until treatment is completed.

How can a UTI be prevented?

Urinating immediately after intercourse may help prevent UTIs by flushing away any bacteria introduced into the bladder during sexual activity. Drink plenty of fluids, and empty your bladder every 3-4 hours while awake.

When should I consult a Health Care Provider?

  • Fever > 101 degrees
  • Vomiting
  • Severe abdominal or back pain
  • Development of a rash, if on medication
  • If Symptoms of UTI continue for more than 48 hours after treatment was begun.