Urinary Tract Infections

UTI causes, symptoms and treatment: everything you need to know

When it hurts to pee, we’ve got the expert advice you need to forge a personal UTI treatment plan. Plus, learn how to get UTI antibiotics without leaving home.
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The classic signs of a UTI are hard to miss. There’s pain with urination, a frequent urge to go to the bathroom (even if you just went) and intense discomfort that can disrupt your daily life. It’s up there when it comes to “least fun things to figure out.”

Sometimes UTI symptoms can be subtle or look like other conditions. Even when you’re sure it’s a UTI, finding the right treatment can be a hassle. Should you wait it out at home? What about cranberry juice? And what should you do if your UTI keeps coming back?

Not to worry! Dr. B has answers to all of your UTI questions—from symptoms to treatments to knowing when it’s time to get a UTI prescription treatment. Plus, how Dr. B’s virtual health platform can help you get antibiotics for UTI without seeing a doctor in their office.

What is a UTI?

UTI stands for urinary tract infection. The body usually flushes bacteria out of the urinary system (the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra) through urination. When the bacterial load becomes overwhelming—or you are unable to clear the bacteria—the overload causes a UTI.

What causes a UTI?

UTIs are one of the most common health conditions—particularly in people with female anatomy. That’s because those assigned female at birth (AFAB) have a short urethra, so bacteria doesn’t have far to go before it reaches the bladder. In people AFAB, the urethra is also close to the vagina and anus. This also makes it easy for bacteria to reach the urethra.

Any activity that introduces bacteria into your system—from sexual activity to wiping inefficiently after a bowel movement—can increase the risk of developing a UTI. Most of the time, your body prevents this from occurring by peeing out bacteria. But if the amount of bacteria is too great—or if you don’t pee often enough to flush out bacteria—you can develop a UTI.

Factors that contribute to UTIs include:

  • Sexual activity
  • Some kinds of birth control
  • Hormone changes, including pregnancy and menopause
  • Structural or anatomical complications in the urinary system (like kidney stones or an enlarged prostate)
  • Dehydration
  • Diabetes or other conditions that impact the immune system
  • Using a catheter (a thin plastic tube that drains urine from the bladder)

What are the main UTI symptoms?

The symptoms of a UTI are hard to miss. Classic symptoms include pain or burning when you go to the bathroom or feeling like you have to pee all the time. These symptoms reflect what’s happening inside—the lining of the urethra and bladder is irritated and inflamed. Your body starts sending signals to pee more often in an effort to get rid of the bacteria.

Common UTI symptoms include:

  • Burning while peeing
  • Painful urination (dysuria)
  • Feeling like you have to pee often, even after going to the bathroom
  • Peeing small amounts very often
  • Cloudy urine
  • Strong-smelling or smelly urine
  • Pink, brown or red-tinged urine (which may be a sign of blood in the urine)
  • Pelvic pain

UTIs can sometimes cause other symptoms in older adults—especially those with dementia. In this group of people, UTIs can cause symptoms like confusion, restlessness, aggression or hallucinations. Any such behavior changes should be checked out by a medical provider, regardless of age or medical status.

How do different types of UTIs affect symptoms?

UTI symptoms depend on the type of UTI you have and where the bacteria is growing.

  • Most UTIs develop in the urethra or bladder, as they’re at the lower part of the urinary tract. These infections tend to be milder. An infection in the urethra may only include burning with urination. 
  • If the infection moves up the urinary system into the bladder (also known as cystitis), symptoms can become more intense. Lower abdominal pain or pelvic pain, pelvic pressure, frequent urination or blood-stained urine may occur with these infections.
  • Kidney infections are generally the most severe. Talk to a medical provider right away if you experience high fever, chills, shaking, side or back pain, nausea or vomiting. These may be serious or signs of a kidney infection that require advanced UTI treatment.

How are urinary tract infections treated?

Several UTI medicines can help end infections and ease symptoms.

Simple UTIs are usually treated with a round of antibiotics. Most people start to feel better after just a few doses. Antibiotics can cause some side effects, like diarrhea and nausea. If used too often, there is also a risk of developing resistance—meaning that an antibiotic may stop working against a particular type of bacteria. (Keep reading for more on how Dr. B can help you get an online UTI prescription for UTI antibiotics online.)

Other medications can help ease the pain and discomfort associated with UTIs. These include the Phenazopyridine (and its brand name, Pyridium). UTI treatments over-the-counter include pain relievers like Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen.

When should I get a UTI prescription medication?

If your UTI symptoms are mild and you don’t have any signs of a serious infection (like fever, chills or nausea), it’s reasonable to wait a day or two to see if your body can clear the infection on its own. But people who are pregnant or who have other conditions (like diabetes) should talk to their provider, no matter how mild their symptoms are.

If you choose to wait and see how your body handles the infection, drink plenty of water and use the bathroom frequently. Some people also try cranberry juice or cranberry tablets—but research on this method is mixed.

If your symptoms do not improve in 1-3 days—or if your symptoms get worse—talk to a medical provider right away. Without treatment, the infection can move to the kidneys and potentially cause serious damage.

Otherwise, you can seek treatment with UTI pills as soon as you start feeling the telltale symptoms. It can be difficult to get a prescription if your symptoms start after your doctor’s office hours or if you’re traveling. Thankfully, Dr. B makes it easier to access UTI treatments online—no matter where you are.

How long do UTIs last?

When treated with pills for UTI, people AFAB can usually clear the infection with antibiotics prescribed for at least 3 and up to 14 days. It’s important to take the full prescribed course of antibiotics even if symptoms start clearing up earlier. More complicated UTIs—and those that go without treatment—can last for weeks or even months.

How do you prevent a UTI? 

It’s not always possible to prevent a UTI. If you develop a UTI, it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong or that you have poor hygiene habits. But some simple steps can make getting a UTI less likely.

Follow these tips to decrease the risk of developing a UTI:

  • Drink lots of fluids, especially water. This helps flush bacteria out of your urinary system through frequent urination.
  • Wipe front to back. Always wipe from front to back after using the bathroom. This minimizes the chance that bacteria from the anus and vagina can enter the urethra. 
  • Check your birth control. Diaphragms, unlubricated condoms and spermicides (including condoms treated with spermicide) may increase the risk of UTIs. But they also reduce risk of sexually transmitted infections. So if you get frequent UTIs, ask your medical provider to help you find a different form of birth control.
  • Avoid potentially irritating feminine hygiene products. Douches, deodorant sprays and powders may irritate delicate tissues, making it easier for bacteria to invade.
  • Pee after sex. Empty your bladder fully as soon as possible after having sex. This can help flush out any bacteria that may have been introduced.
  • Drink cranberry juice: Some studies suggest that drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements can help protect against UTIs. This can be expensive, and it may not be the right choice for everyone.

What are some complications of a UTI?

A UTI can turn into a more serious problem if it’s not treated or if it spreads to the kidneys. UTIs are generally more dangerous for:

  • People assigned male at birth (AMAB)
  • Those who are pregnant
  • People with diabetes
  • Those with conditions that impact their immune system
  • Older adults

If you have even mild symptoms of a UTI and one of those other conditions, talk to a medical provider immediately.

When to contact a doctor

Most UTIs are easily treated by a short course of antibiotics. If you get UTIs often, your provider can help you understand ways to prevent them—from lifestyle changes to daily antibiotics.

UTIs can cause significant pain and discomfort. Without treatment, they can move to the kidneys and potentially cause kidney damage or more widespread infection.

You should also speak to a provider if you are being treated for a UTI and your condition gets worse. If you develop signs of a more serious infection, like nausea, vomiting, fever, chills or bloody urine, make an appointment today. This could indicate that the infection has reached the kidneys.

When to Contact a Provider:

Talk to a medical provider right away if any of the following applies to you:

  • You are pregnant
  • You were assigned male at birth
  • You have diabetes or any other condition that affects your immune system
  • Your symptoms do not get better after 1-3 days, even if you are taking antibiotics
  • Your symptoms get worse
  • Severe abdominal or back pain suggesting an alternative diagnosis
  • You develop nausea, vomiting, chills, fever or signs of blood of the urine
  • You get frequent UTIs (more than 2 in a year)

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How to get UTI antibiotics online

If you have symptoms of a UTI, you don’t have to wait to get relief. You can get antibiotics for UTIs online with Dr. B’s virtual health platform. First, you’ll complete an online health assessment sharing your health history and current symptoms. A licensed medical provider will review your assessment. If they determine that prescription treatment is appropriate, they’ll help you choose the best antibiotic for your UTI and send the prescription to your chosen pharmacy.

Health providers often review assessments within three business hours. So you may be able to get UTI antibiotics online the same day as bothersome symptoms begin. Learn more and get started here.


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