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Babylon Health

What are urinary tract infections (UTIs)?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system. This can include your kidneys, ureters, bladder or urethra. Most infections involve the lower urinary tract: namely, the bladder and the urethra. Cystitis is the medical name for a bladder infection.

Urine typically doesn’t contain bacteria. Normally, urine moves through your urinary system without any contamination. However, because there is bacteria present on our skin, genital areas, and gastrointestinal system, bacteria found in these nearby areas can work its way into the urinary system, causing infection and inflammation. This is a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Women develop UTIs more often than men do, because of the anatomic position of the urinary tract in women, and it is easy for bacteria to enter the urinary system because of the position of the urethra. UTIs can be both painful and annoying. Usually, antibiotics are needed to treat the infection. More serious consequences can occur if a UTI spreads to your kidneys. Thus, if you notice any abnormal urinary symptoms, it is best to book a consultation with a healthcare provider.

Symptoms of UTIs

Symptoms of a UTI can differ from person to person. In general, they also depend on what part of the urinary tract is infected.

Lower tract UTIs affect the urethra and bladder. Symptoms of a lower tract UTI include:

  • burning when urinating
  • increased frequency of urination while peeing very small amounts
  • increased urgency of urination
  • urine that is dark in color (looks like cola or tea)
  • urine that has a strong odor
  • bloody urine
  • cloudy urine
  • pelvic pain in women
  • rectal pain in men
  • Discharge from the penis in men

Upper tract UTIs affect the kidneys. These can be potentially life threatening as the out of control infection hinders the function of your kidneys. Additionally, infection can further spread to the bloodstream, causing a severe condition called sepsis.

Symptoms of an upper tract UTI include:

  • upper back pain and tenderness
  • chills
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting

UTI causes and risk factors

People of any age and sex can develop a UTI. However, some people are more at risk than others. The following factors can increase the chances of developing a UTI:

  • sexual intercourse- though most UTIs are not caused by sexually transmitted infections (not given to you from your partner), the friction that occurs during intercourse can contribute to the migration of bacteria up the urinary tract. Many women who experience UTIs do so a few days after intercourse.
  • poor personal hygiene
  • problems emptying the bladder completely
  • procedures involving the urinary tract
  • suppressed immune system from disease or certain medications
  • use of spermicides and tampons
  • having a urinary catheter in place
  • bowel incontinence
  • blocked flow of urine (anatomical abnormalities or presence of stones in the urinary tract)
  • kidney stones
  • pregnancy
  • Menopause
  • Diabetes mellitus

Diagnosis of UTIs

If you are experiencing symptoms, you should book a consultation with your healthcare provider. If symptoms are clear, and a simple UTI is suspected, your provider can send in antibiotics for treatment at a pharmacy near you. Sometimes, the provider will suggest doing a urine test to confirm the diagnosis, or further investigate your symptoms. A urinalysis is a test that checks the urine for red blood cells, white blood cells and bacteria. The number of white and red blood cells found in your urine can help diagnose the infection, along with the type of bacteria present. A urine culture can also be ordered. In a urine culture, the bacteria are analyzed to determine which types of antibiotics are the most effective against that specific bacteria. When you see a Babylon healthcare provider remotely, the provider can search and locate a local lab near you for you to have the urine test ordered and completed there, if this is needed.

UTI treatment

UTIs are treated with antibiotics. Your healthcare provider knows the most likely bacteria that caused your infection based on your symptoms and your history, and will prescribe antibiotics appropriately if a UTI is suspected. If you and your provider agree that a urine test is needed, this can be ordered for you at a local lab near you, with results sent back to your ordering provider.

If you are prescribed antibiotics, it is very important that you follow your healthcare provider’s directions for taking the medicine. Don’t stop taking the antibiotic because your symptoms go away and you start feeling better. If the infection is not treated completely with the full course of antibiotics, it can return. Not completing the full course of antibiotics also increases the risk of the development of drug resistant bacteria. It is important to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics by completing the full course when prescribed.


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Can you get UTI treatment online?

Yes. You can get UTI treatment in as little as 15 minutes by speaking to a board-certified online healthcare provider from your phone or computer, like the providers at Babylon Health. The provider will ask you about your symptoms and medical history, order any tests to be done near you if necessary, and send an electronic prescription to your local pharmacy. You can also easily schedule a follow up appointment if needed.

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How long does it take to get UTI symptoms?

The incubation period (from the time of exposure to time symptoms begin) varies from person to person. It also changes according to the microbe (germ) involved. In general, with common urinary tract infections, people experience symptoms within three to eight days after the bacteria enters the urinary tract.

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Is burning while urinating a symptom of a UTI?

Yes. If you go to the bathroom and feel a burning sensation when you urinate, this could be a sign of a UTI. UTIs are very common, particularly for women. The risk of a woman contracting one in her lifetime ranges from 40% to more than 50%.

UTIs are inconvenient and can make a woman feel miserable from the pelvic pain, frequent urination and that burning feeling. A prompt treatment plan is key to relieving these symptoms and preventing possible complications, such as kidney infection.

However, not all burning during urination is caused by UTIs. If your symptoms do not resolve after regular UTI treatment, make a followup appointment with your healthcare provider.

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How can I get relief from UTI burning?

One of the most important ways to reduce UTI burning is to actually treat the underlying infection with antibiotics, which you can get delivered via an online pharmacy or pick up at your local pharmacy. Most people begin to feel better within 1 to 2 days of taking antibiotics.

However, there are also other steps you can take to be more comfortable while your symptoms resolve. These include:

  • Drinking lots of water. Drinking water helps keep your urine diluted which makes urinating less painful. Staying hydrated also helps you urinate more often so that you continue to get rid of the bacteria in your bladder. This however will not cure a UTI.
  • Avoiding irritating beverages. Water is good. However, caffeine and alcohol are not helpful. The caffeine in beverages like coffee, tea, and alcohol can further irritate the bladder,, which could make urinating even more painful while you have a UTI. These beverages can also worsen your frequency of urination you are already experiencing with your UTI.
  • Trying a heating pad. A low level of heat can help ease any abdominal pain or cramps you feel.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen and tylenol. There is also a prescription medication that improves urinary pain, called phenazopyridine. Let your provider know if your pain during urination is very severe-to see if this is an option for you.
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Do UTIs cause blood in the urine?

Yes. One symptom of a UTI is blood in your pee/urine. If you think you have a UTI, especially if you’re peeing blood, it is very important to see a doctor or nurse and get treated as soon as possible.

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Is blood in the urine an emergency?

Blood in the urine should never be ignored and you should speak to your doctor immediately if you notice it. While UTIs are one cause of blood in the urine, there are other causes, too. These include:

  • Enlarged prostate
  • Kidney stones
  • Vigorous exercise such as long-distance running
  • Cancer
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Certain drugs, such as blood thinners, aspirin and other pain relievers, and antibiotics
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What is the difference between a UTI and a bladder infection?

UTIs can affect any part of the urinary tract, including the urethra, ureters, bladder, or in more serious cases, the kidneys. A bladder infection is a UTI that only affects the bladder.

It is not always possible to distinguish what part of the urinary tract has infection, because symptoms can be similar.

The more promptly a person seeks consultation with a medical provider, the sooner they will receive treatment and feel better. Early treatment also reduces the chances of a serious infection spreading to the kidneys or other areas of the body.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.