A urinary tract infection (UTI) happens when bacteria, especially e. coli, enter the urinary tract — the kidneys, bladder, and the urethra, which is the tube through which urine leaves the body. Germs can enter and irritate the urinary tract during catheter insertion or prolonged use.
UTIs are common—about 60% of women and 12% of men will experience at least one UTI in their lives. People who use catheters are at increased risk. Therefore, it is good to understand how to identify if you have a UTI, and what can be done to prevent UTIs.
Most urinary tract infections are uncomfortable but resolve with treatment. Left untreated, UTIs can lead to more serious conditions, including:
- Pyelonephritis: This infection of the kidneys occurs in about 2% of untreated UTIs. It causes nausea and vomiting as well as fever and pain in the side. It can be treated with antibiotics but can cause permanent damage and scarring if untreated.
- Sepsis: This life-threatening condition happens when there is too much inflammation for the body to fight. It happens in about 25% of UTIs that do not receive treatment. You’re at increased risk for sepsis if you have a history of urinary tract conditions, are over age 65, or have a suppressed immune system.
For most uncomplicated UTIs, antibiotic medications can help you feel better within a few days. It’s critical to be able to identify the symptoms of a UTI and get help before it becomes serious. So how do you know when it’s time to see the doctor?
How To Identify a UTI
Not all UTIs cause symptoms. When they do, symptoms include:
- Frequent need to urinate that doesn’t go away
- Pain or burning during urination
- Pain in the pelvis
- Red or pink blood in the urine, or cloudy or dark colored urine
- Strongly scented urine
- Urinating often without much production
UTIs in the kidneys may involve high fever, pain the back or side, and nausea. When the bladder is infected, signs include discomfort in the lower abdomen, blood in the urine, and pressure in the pelvis. An infected urethra can lead to discharge and burning when urinating.
What To Do if You Suspect a UTI
If you have symptoms of a UTI, talk with your doctor. They can prescribe medication that will kill unwanted bacteria and help your symptoms go away. Your doctor may also order tests called urinalysis and urine culture to look for signs of infection in your urine. UTIs that don’t respond to treatment may need additional tests, such as an ultrasound, CT scan, or cystoscopy—all ways of looking inside the body.
To help prevent a UTI, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:
- Don’t leave a catheter in place longer than necessary.
- Make sure you or your caregiver are properly trained to cath and be sure to use sterile techniques.
- Wash your hands before and after cathing
- Clean the skin around where the catheter will be inserted before use.
For many people, urinary tract infections can feel like part of life with a catheter. But it doesn’t have to be. Knowing the signs of a UTI and who to call if you notice any can go a long way toward keeping you healthy.
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Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For medical advice, please speak with your healthcare provider.