What is a urinary tract infection?

Your urinary tract is the system that makes urine and carries it out of your body. It includes your bladder and kidneys and the tubes that connect them. When germs get into this system, they can cause an infection.

Most urinary tract infections are bladder infections. A bladder infection usually is not serious if it is treated right away. If you do not take care of a bladder infection, it can spread to your kidneys. A kidney infection is serious and can cause permanent damage.

What causes urinary tract infections?

Usually, germs get into your system through your urethra, the tube that carries urine from your bladder to the outside of your body. The germs that usually cause these infections live in your large intestine and are found in your stool. If these germs get inside your urethra, they can travel up into your bladder and kidneys and cause an infection.

Women tend to get more bladder infections than men. This is probably because women have shorter urethras, so it is easier for the germs to move up to their bladders. Having sex can make it easier for germs to get into your urethra.

You may be more likely to get an infection if you do not drink enough fluids, you have diabetes, or you are pregnant. The chance that you will get a bladder infection is higher if you have any problem that blocks the flow of urine from your bladder. Examples include having kidney stones or an enlarged prostate gland.

For reasons that are not well understood, some women get bladder infections again and again.

What are the symptoms?

You may have an infection if you have any of these symptoms:

• You feel pain or burning when you urinate.
• You feel like you have to urinate often, but not much urine comes out when you do.
• Your belly feels tender or heavy.
• Your urine is cloudy or smells bad.
• You have pain on one side of your back under your ribs. This is where your kidneys are.
• You have fever and chills.
• You have nausea and vomiting.

Call your doctor right away if you think you have an infection and:

• You have a fever, nausea and vomiting, or pain in one side of your back under your ribs.
• You have diabetes, kidney problems, or a weak immune system.
• You are older than 65.
• You are pregnant.

How are urinary tract infections diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask for a sample of your urine. It is tested to see if it has germs that cause bladder infections.