A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a painful and uncomfortable bacterial infection that can occur in the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Because the faster an infection is diagnosed, the faster a patient can begin the healing process, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a UTI.
Urine moving through the body is typically sterile and not prone to containing infection-causing bacteria, however, bacteria can lodge in the digestive tract and multiply, eventually causing painful symptoms.
It is especially important to recognize UTI symptoms if a patient is at higher risk of contracting a UTI as compared to other people. Women who are at elevated risk include those who have a catheter placed in the urethra or bladder (according to the National Institutes of Health), diabetics, those with an immune disorder and women who use a diaphragm to prevent pregnancy.
Because the urinary tract consists of several different organs, any of which can become infected, symptoms may vary based on the location of the infection. For example, a UTI occurring in the kidneys (medical term: acute pyelonephritis) causes symptoms such as upper back or side pain, fever, shaking and chills, nausea or vomiting.
A UTI occurring in the bladder (medical term: cystitis) causes symptoms such as pelvic pain and pressure, pain in the lower abdomen, frequent need to urinate, pain when urinating and a low-grade fever.
Finally, a UTI that is present in the urethra (medical term: urethritis) causes a burning sensation when urinating.
Urine that is altered in color, such as urine that is cloudy, dark, odorous or bloody in appearance may also signify an infection.
Diagnosis and Severe Symptoms
A physician most often diagnoses a UTI by taking a medical history, listening to a patient's symptoms, and examining a urine sample, which measures the amount of bacteria present in the urine. UTIs are most frequently cured with antibiotics.
It is important to note that untreated UTIs, particularly those in the kidneys, can cause severe symptoms that may require hospitalization in order to receive antibiotics. If symptoms related to a kidney infection (such as a high fever and chills) remain untreated, these can cause an chronic kidney infections as well as result in irreversible damage to the kidneys.