How Do You Know if You Have a Urinary Tract Infection?

While most commonly involving the lower urinary tract (the urethra and the bladder), a urinary tract infection raleigh nc (UTI) can infect any part of the urinary tract system including the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra.  The risk of developing a UTI is higher in women than it is with men.  A mild infection of the bladder can be annoying and cause discomfort whereas a urinary tract infection that spreads to the kidneys, can have serious consequences.  Doctors generally use antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections, but patients may be wondering how to know if the symptoms they are experiencing are characteristic of a UTI.

UTI Symptoms

In some cases, patients show no signs or symptoms of a urinary tract infections.  When patients do show symptoms, the following are typical of a UTI:

  • Constant urge to urinate
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Frequently passing urine in small quantities
  • Urine has a cloudy appearance
  • Discolored urine that is red, pink, or brown which could indicate the presence of blood in the urine
  • Urine has a strong odor
  • In women, pain in the pelvis and around the pubic bone

Depending on what part of the urinary tract is infected, the UTI can have other specific symptoms and signs:

Kidneys (acute pyelonephritis):  Occurs when bacteria spreads from the bloodstream to the kidneys.  More severe but less common than bladder infections.  Characterized by back and flank (side) pain, high fever, chills, shaking, nausea, and vomiting.

Bladder (cystitis):  The most common urinary tract infection, occurring almost entirely with women, that creates inflammation of the bladder.  The UTI is generally brief, acute, and only affects the surface of the bladder.  Symptoms include pelvic pressure, lower abdominal discomfort, frequent urination, painful urination, and blood in the urine.

Urethra (urethritis):  Occurs when the urethra becomes inflamed.  Frequently contracted through sexual intercourse with partners that are infected with sexually transmitted infections.  Can also be caused by trauma or from catheterization.  Characterized by discharge and a burning sensation when urinating.

Diagnosing a UTI

  • Urine sample analysis: The doctor could request a urine sample to check for the presence of red blood cells, white blood cells, or bacteria.  To avoid potentially contaminating the sample, the doctor may instruct the patient to wipe their genital area with antiseptic pads and to collect the urine midstream.
  • Bacterial culture: Following a urine analysis, a urine culture is sometimes needed.  The culture helps the doctor identify what bacteria caused the urinary tract infection as well as the most effective medication for treatment.
  • Urinary tract imaging: Patients that suffer from frequent UTIs could have an abnormality in their urinary tract.  To rule out any abnormality, the doctor may order magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), an ultrasound, or a computerized tomography (CT) scan.  Contrast dye could also be used by the doctor to highlight structures in the urinary tract.
  • Using a scope to inspect the bladder: For patients with recurrent UTIs, the doctor could perform a cystoscopy to see inside the bladder and urethra.  The long, thin tube (cystoscope) has a lens and is inserted in the urethra and passed through to the bladder.

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