You may have been affected by it once in your life—that painful sensation you get when you pee. You may dismiss it as a one-time thing, but a persistent pain, coupled with other symptoms, might mean that you are suffering from a urinary tract infection.

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A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of any organ that is part of your urinary system, which includes your ureters, the bladder, the urethra, and your kidneys. It is quite common, and accounts for 25% of all infections in women. About 50 to 60% of women will have a UTI at least once in their lifetime.

Symptoms of urinary tract infection

Sometimes, you wouldn’t even know you have a urinary tract infection because it does not show any symptoms. However, some of the signs of a urinary tract infection are:

  • a frequent urge to urinate
  • passing small amounts of urine when you do
  • a burning sensation when you pee
  • urine that appears dark yellow or almost brownish, which may be because of the presence of blood
  • urine that looks cloudy
  • pelvic pain
  • fever

These symptoms may vary, however, depending on which organ is affected by the infection.

An infection of the urethra will cause a burning sensation when you pee and an unusual discharge

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An infection of the bladder will manifest with painful urination, discomfort in the lower abdomen, pelvic pressure, and the presence of blood in your urine when you have it tested (you will likely not see blood in your urine in the naked eye).

An infection in your kidneys will feel much worse, and will include any or a combination of the following: nausea, vomiting, high fever, upper back and side pain, and chills.

Causes of urinary tract infection

Bacteria that enters the urinary system and multiplies is the usual culprit for a urinary tract infection. 

The E. coli bacteria is usually to blame if the infection is found in the bladder, otherwise known as cystitis. Women are more susceptible to getting cystitis because of the proximity of the anus to the urethral opening to the bladder. The simple act of wiping from front to back after urinating, if not followed properly, could already trigger it. Sexual intercourse may sometimes also aggravate UTI.

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If it’s an infection of the urethra, bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract that spread from the anus to the urethra may be the reason. 

Are you at risk of UTI?

While anyone could get UTI, women are more likely to develop it for the following reasons:

Anatomy - a shorter urethra in women (compared to men’s urethra) means a shorter distance for the bacteria to get to the bladder

Menopause - once a woman reaches that stage, her estrogen levels decline and alters the urinary tract, making it an easy target for infection

Diabetes - women who have diabetes have a compromised immune system, making them less able to fight off the infection

Pregnancy - As the uterus grows, the weight it puts on the bladder could block the drainage of urine.

Diagnosis and treatment of UTI

A simple urinalysis could detect the presence of bacteria in your urine, which could affect any of the organs in the urinary system. Once confirmed that you have it, your doctor will likely prescribe medications, usually antibiotics, to treat it. Be sure to follow the instructions closely and finish the cycle of medicines even if you already see an improvement after a few days.

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How to prevent UTI

Here are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of developing UTI:

Make it a habit to drink water.

Hydrating with water has a long list of benefits and helping prevent UTI is just one of them. By drinking fluids you are ensuring that you will urinate more frequently, which flushes out bacteria from the urinary tract.

After peeing, wipe front to back.

Prevent the spread of the bacteria from your anal region to your vagina by making sure you wipe with a clean tissue using a backward motion (and not the other way around!)

Make sure to pee after sexual intercourse.

Clean up as much as possible to stop the bacteria from reaching your vagina (or to flush out any).

Drink cranberry juice.

It is widely believed that cranberry juice can help prevent UTI (there are no conclusive evidence yet, though).  

Chronic UTI

Statistics indicate that on average, an adult woman may have one or two bouts of UTI in her lifetime. However, there are those who get the infection three times in a year, or more. When the UTI keeps happening, it may already be considered a chronic UTI. Discuss with your doctor the best way to address your chronic UTI. 

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