UTI symptoms: how do I know if I have a UTI?

Elizabeth Morrill
Elizabeth Morrill
Published Mar 27, 2023
A middle-aged black woman with short hair is resting on a dark grey couch with her eyes closed

Key Points:

  1. The most common symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) include pain or burning with urination, pelvic pain, cloudy or bloody urine, a strong urge to urinate that doesn’t go away and frequent urination.
  2. Most UTIs involve the lower part of the urinary system. If the infection spreads to the kidneys, symptoms can be more severe and may include fever, back or side pain, nausea or vomiting and shaking or chills.
  3. Most UTIs can be cleared up with antibiotics. If you have symptoms of a UTI, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider right away.

The symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) are hard to miss: pain with urination, a burning sensation while peeing or feeling like you have to go all the time. UTI symptoms can vary based on where the infection is located in the urinary system. Regardless, recovering from a UTI usually requires medical treatment and prescription antibiotics.

What is a UTI?

A UTI is typically caused when bacteria enters the urinary system through the urethra (the opening where urine comes out of the body). Bacteria can then spread up to the bladder, ureters or kidneys.

Bacteria is usually flushed out of the urinary system through urination (“peeing”). If there is too much bacteria or your body can’t pee the germs out quickly enough, an infection can grow and spread.

UTIs are more common in women and people with female anatomy. That’s because of where the urethra is located: closer to the vagina and anus. The urethra is also shorter in women, making it easier for bacteria to get inside the body. When bacteria from the vagina or anus enter the urethra, they can spread and cause infections.

The top UTI symptoms

Urinary tract infections can feel very uncomfortable. However, symptoms can vary depending on the type of UTI. Also, some UTIs don’t cause symptoms or may be confused for other conditions.

Common symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Pain or burning with urination
  • A strong urge to urinate that doesn’t go away even after using the bathroom
  • Urinating small amounts frequently
  • Cloudy or strong-smelling urine
  • Pink, brown or red-tinged urine (a sign of blood in the urine)
  • Pelvic pain

If the infection is limited to the urethra, symptoms tend to be milder and generally involve discharge and burning with urination.

Symptoms tend to become more severe as the infection moves up the urinary system. Bladder infections (also called cystitis) may include pelvic pain or pressure, frequent and painful urination or blood in the urine. When infections spread to the ureters and kidneys, symptoms can be severe.

Symptoms of a kidney infection include:

  • High fever
  • Side or back pain
  • Shaking or chills
  • Nausea or vomiting

When a UTI gets worse

Most UTIs occur in the lower part of the urinary system, like the urethra or bladder. These infections can be painful but are usually not serious when treated quickly. When UTIs spread to the upper part of the urinary system, like the kidneys, they can cause more serious problems.

Usually, bacteria is flushed out of the urinary system when you urinate. However, sometimes this process is interrupted or blocked. This can allow bacteria to move up into the kidneys.

Conditions that make kidney infections more likely include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Kidney stones
  • Structural abnormalities
  • Diabetes or other conditions that affect the immune system
  • The use of urinary catheters, especially for an extended period of time

Even minor UTIs can be very painful. UTIs cause the lining of the urethra and bladder to become irritated. This triggers your body to urinate more often in an attempt to flush the bacteria out of your system. You may find yourself urinating very often but only releasing a few drops of urine.

UTI symptoms tend to be worse at night when the bladder fills up, creating more pressure against the irritated lining of the bladder. Symptoms can also feel worse at night when there is less to distract you from the pain.

When are UTI symptoms dangerous?

UTIs can turn into a more serious problem if they reach the kidneys. Signs of a kidney infection include fever, chills, nausea and vomiting and back or side pain.

People who are pregnant or who have other conditions that affect their immune system should seek treatment quickly. UTIs can be dangerous for people in these situations due to decreased ability to fight off the bacteria.

UTIs can sometimes cause symptoms like confusion, restlessness, aggression and hallucinations. This is more common in older adults or those with dementia. Any changes in behavior, regardless of age, should be investigated right away by a healthcare provider.

When to call your healthcare provider

Don’t wait to seek treatment for a UTI. While most UTIs are cleared quickly by antibiotics, they can damage the kidneys if left untreated.

If you are being treated for a UTI and develop symptoms like nausea, vomiting, fever or chills, you should call your provider right away. You should also talk to your provider if you notice any signs of blood in your urine, including pink, red or brown-colored urine.

Online treatment for UTIs

Still not sure how to treat a UTI? Learn more about how Dr. B can help with a virtual consultation.


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