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Tracking Down Relief for a Urinary Tract Infection

Updated November 11, 2019
Bindi Shukla, MD

Urinary tract infections are common infections that can cause serious health problems if left untreated. The infection can spread to your bladder or kidney within three days, which is why women should seek care immediately for a quick diagnosis and prompt treatment.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common infections that can cause serious health problems if left untreated. The infection can spread to your bladder or kidney within three days, which is why women should seek care immediately for a quick diagnosis and prompt treatment.

By visiting with a doctor right away, you can start antibiotics before the infection spreads. According to Bindi Shukla, MD, an urgent care doctor at Duke Urgent Care Croasdaile, “If you think you may have signs of a UTI and develop body aches or lower abdominal pain, you should see a doctor soon.”

UTI Symptoms

Dr. Shukla said the top complaint of a UTI is discomfort when urinating. You may feel pain or a burning sensation, or even see blood in your urine. Frequency of bathroom use is a sign, too. “Some people may have to urinate every minute or two, others every 20 minutes, but there’s always a cluster of symptoms that include a need to urinate more and have discomfort or an uncommon odor with urinating,” she said.

What Causes a UTI?

While men can get UTIs, they are more common in women because of the female anatomy. Bacteria that cause UTIs often come from feces, and because urethra -- the tube in which urine travels from the bladder to the outside of the body -- is shorter in women, bacteria have a shorter distance to travel to infect the bladder.

Most cases of UTIs are actually cystitis, an infection in the bladder that causes inflammation and irritation. A kidney infection can bring symptoms that are not typical to cystitis: fever and back pain. If left untreated, it can progress to sepsis, a potentially life-threatening, whole-body infection.

Diagnosing a UTI

During your doctor’s visit, a urine sample will be collected and tested to confirm the diagnosis. Your doctor may also perform a physical exam and press on your abdomen to test for muscle tenderness or kidney issues. A pelvic exam may be necessary to check for any discharge, rash, or lumps. You’ll also be asked about a fever, chills, body aches, stomach pains, or nausea and vomiting, which can all be part of your body’s reaction to an infection.

Treating a UTI

An antibiotic is the only medication that will cure a UTI. Depending on the severity and where the infection has traveled, different levels of antibiotics will be recommended. While you’ll feel better quickly, it’s important to complete the entire course of antibiotics. If you stop your antibiotic too quickly, the infection can return and start a vicious cycle.

How to Prevent a UTI

Bathroom habits can help: Wiping from front to back will avoid pulling bacteria toward your vagina. If you’re prone to UTIs, drinking plenty of liquids is important; water is safer and less expensive than cranberry juice, long touted as preventive medicine for UTIs. The juice could upset your stomach and may be associated with kidney stones. Whatever you’re drinking, urine should be pale yellow to clear as an indication you’re staying hydrated. Increased urination can wash out bacteria.

Dr. Shukla also said that urinating after intercourse can help prevent the spread of bacteria to the urethra and decrease the chances for infection. The use of spermicides, especially in conjunction with condoms and diaphragms, is also associated with recurrent UTIs.

Bindi Shukla, MD, is an urgent care doctor at Duke Urgent Care Croasdaile.

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