Urinary Tract Infection in Adults

What is the urinary tract?

The urinary tract is the group of organs in the body that handle urine (figure 1). The urinary tract includes the:

  • Kidneys: 2 bean-shaped organs that filter the blood to make urine
  • Bladder: a balloon-shaped organ that stores urine
  • Ureters: 2 tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder
  • Urethra: the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body

What are urinary tract infections?

Urinary tract infections, also called "UTIs," are infections that affect either the bladder or the kidneys:

Both bladder and kidney infections are more common in women than men.

  • Bladder infections are more common than kidney infections. They happen when bacteria get into the urethra and travel up into the bladder. The medical term for bladder infection is "cystitis."
  • Kidney infections happen when the bacteria travel even higher, up into the kidneys. The medical term for kidney infection is "pyelonephritis."

What are the symptoms of a bladder infection?

The symptoms include:

  • Pain or a burning feeling when you urinate
  • The need to urinate often
  • The need to urinate suddenly or in a hurry
  • Blood in the urine

What are the symptoms of a kidney infection?

The symptoms of a kidney infection can include the symptoms of a bladder infection, but kidney infections can also cause:

  • Fever
  • Back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting

How do I find out if I have a urinary tract infection?

Call your doctor or nurse. Sometimes, he or she can tell if you have a urinary tract infection just by learning about your symptoms.

Your doctor or nurse might do a simple urine test. If he or she thinks you might have a kidney infection or is unsure what you have, he or she might also do a more involved urine test to check for bacteria.

How do I find out if I have a urinary tract infection?

Most urinary tract infections are treated with antibiotic pills. These pills work by killing the germs that cause the infection.

If you have a bladder infection, you will probably need to take antibiotics for 3 to 7 days. If you have a kidney infection, you will probably need to take antibiotics for longer – maybe for up to 2 weeks. If you have a kidney infection, it's also possible you will need to be treated in the hospital.

Your symptoms should begin to improve within a day of starting antibiotics. But you should finish all the antibiotic pills you get. Otherwise your infection might come back.

If needed, you can also take a medicine to numb your bladder. This medicine eases the pain caused by urinary tract infections. It also reduces the need to urinate.

What if I get bladder infections a lot?

First, check with your doctor or nurse to make sure that you are really having bladder infections. The symptoms of bladder infection can be caused by other things. Your doctor or nurse will want to see if those problems might be causing your symptoms.

But if you are really dealing with repeated infections, there are things you can do to keep from getting more infections. These include:

  • Avoiding spermicides (sperm-killing creams) – Spermicide is a form of birth control. It seems to increase the risk of bladder infections in some women, especially when used with a diaphragm. If you use spermicide and get a lot of bladder infections, you might want to try switching to a different form of birth control.
  • Drinking more fluid – This can help prevent bladder infections.
  • Urinating right after sex – Some doctors think this helps, because it helps flush out germs that might get into the bladder during sex. There is no proof it works, but it also cannot hurt.
  • Vaginal estrogen – If you are a woman who has already been through menopause, your doctor might suggest this. Vaginal estrogen comes in a cream or a flexible ring that you put into your vagina. It can help prevent bladder infections.
  • Antibiotics – If you get a lot of bladder infections, and the above methods have not helped, your doctor might give you antibiotics to help prevent infection. But taking antibiotics has downsides, so doctors usually suggest trying other things first.

Can cranberry juice or other cranberry products prevent bladder infections?

The studies suggesting that cranberry products prevent bladder infections are not very good. Other studies suggest that cranberry products do not prevent bladder infections. But if you want to try cranberry products for this purpose, there is probably not much harm in doing so.

Anatomy of the urinary tract

Consumer Information Use and Disclaimer

This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or life-style choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider's advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.The use of UpToDate content is governed by the UpToDate Terms of Use. ©2021 UpToDate, Inc. All rights reserved.


© 2021 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.