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What a pain! Understanding UTIs

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are painful, uncomfortable, and one of the most common infections in the U.S. So common, in fact, that they account for nearly 10 million visits to healthcare clinicians each year.

Here are some other not-so-fun facts about UTIs:

  • Around 60 percent of women and 12 percent of men will have at least one UTI in their lifetime, according to the American Urological Association. 

  • 1 in 5 women experience recurring UTIs.

  • By age 6, approximately 8 percent of girls and 2 percent of boys will have at least 1 UTI.

  • UTI symptoms are wide-ranging and vary from person to person, which sometimes makes the infections difficult to spot.

  • While most UTIs are not serious, some can lead to serious complications if left untreated.

What causes a UTI?

A UTI is any kind of infection that happens along the urinary tract. The bacteria E. coli, which normally lives inside the intestines, is the most common cause of UTIs. 

While any part of the urinary tract can be infected, bladder infections are the most common UTI. These lower urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enter the urethra, the tube that carries pee from the bladder out of the body. 

Upper urinary tract infections that affect the kidneys are less common and more serious.


Who is most at risk for UTIs?

UTIs occur most frequently in women and people assigned female at birth because their urethras are shorter and closer to the rectum.  

Other factors can also increase the risk of getting a UTI, including:

  • A previous UTI.

  • Sexual activity.

  • Changes in the bacteria that live inside the vagina. Menopause or the use of spermicides can cause these bacterial changes.

  • Pregnancy, which causes changes and anatomy and body chemistry. 

  • Age. Both men and women are more likely to get UTIs as they age. Medical conditions, such as bladder prolapse in women and enlarged prostate in men, can keep the bladder from fully emptying.

  • Bacteria from meat. A recent study indicates that around a half million UTI cases in the U.S. each year are caused by foodborne E. coli found predominantly in raw chicken and turkey. 

  • Poor hygiene. For example, toddlers who are potty-training are more susceptible to UTIs.

  • Certain health issues or illnesses, including a compromised immune system or other conditions, such as diabetes, certain autoimmune diseases, neurological diseases, and kidney or bladder stones.


Teens get UTIs, too

Don’t avoid the awkward conversation. It’s important to talk to your teen about UTIs, including how you get them, what they feel like and how to keep them from coming back.


What are the symptoms of a UTI?

Some people may have a lower tract UTI and not know it. But most will experience at least some of the following symptoms:

  • Pain or a burning sensation while peeing
  • Frequent peeing
  • Feeling the need to pee even when your bladder is empty  
  • Cloudy, bloody or darkened urine, or urine with a strong odor.
  • Pressure or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen (in women)
  • Rectal pain (in men)

While not as common, upper tract UTIs affect the kidneys and can be life-threatening. Seek emergency medical care right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Lower back pain or pain in the side of your back
  • Nausea or vomiting


How can I prevent a UTI?

A few simple, preventative steps will help lower your risk of getting a UTI:

  • Drink plenty of fluids (especially water) to dilute your urine and lower the concentration of bacteria in the bladder.  

  • Avoid holding in your pee.

  • Pee before and after sex. Washing your genital area before sex will also help reduce the chance of bacteria spreading to your urethra.

  • Wipe front to back after going to the bathroom to prevent the spread of bacteria to the vagina and urethra.

  • Avoid scented products that can irritate the genital area, such as douches, pads or tampons, deodorant sprays or powders.

  • Reconsider your birth control methods. A diaphragm, spermicide, or spermicide-lubricated condom can contribute to bacterial growth. 

  • Opt for water-based lubricants during sex.

  • Practice good kitchen hygiene. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers tips on how to prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen and when grilling outdoors.


Are you a frequent flyer? If you experience recurrent UTIs, speak with an Indigo clinician about a prevention plan. 


Does cranberry juice prevent UTIs?

Cranberry juice and other products that contain the fruit have long been promoted as solutions to ward off UTIs. Now there’s scientific research to back that up. 

Results of a recent global study indicate that cranberry juice and its supplements reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs in women by more than 25 percent and in children by more than 50 percent.

Cranberry juice should not be considered as a treatment for UTIs, and it won’t cure an infection on its own. You should always seek care for a UTI from a healthcare clinician.

How are UTIs treated?

The best thing you can do for a urinary tract infection is to see a healthcare clinician. The sooner you receive treatment for your UTI, the sooner you’ll get relief and stop the potential spread of infection. 

If you suspect a UTI, Indigo Health is here 8 am to 8 pm every day to provide the care you need, when and where you need it.  

One of our clinicians will evaluate your symptoms and provide a prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. 

  • If the source of your UTI is bacterial, your clinician will prescribe oral antibiotics.
  • More severe upper tract UTIs may require intravenous antibiotics and a trip to the ER.  

If you’ve had UTIs in the past and are familiar with the symptoms, skip the trip to the clinic and connect with an Indigo Virtual Care clinician. Simply book a same-day or next-day appointment with from your favorite device.  


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