Early UTI Symptoms & Treatment Options
A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when there is an infection in your urinary system. This is your body’s drainage system for removing wastes and extra water, and consists of two kidneys, two ureters, a bladder, and a urethra. Any part of your urinary system can become infected, but most UTIs take place in the lower urinary tract, which includes the bladder and the urethra.
If you think you might be showing signs of a UTI, you’re not alone. In fact, UTIs are one of the most common infections among individuals, especially women. More than half of women will have at least one UTI at some point in their lifetime.
Here are the early UTI symptoms to look out for, as well as some information regarding causes of a UTI, treatment options, and preventative measures.
Causes of a Urinary Tract Infection
A urinary tract infection is caused when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra, which is responsible for transporting urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. Once there, the bacteria travels up the urinary tract and multiplies — triggering an inflammatory response in the body, and resulting in the symptoms you associate with a UTI.
Although both men and women can get a UTI, women are at a higher risk of developing one. This is because women have a shorter urethra, so it’s easier for bacteria to enter their bladder. UTIs in men are often caused by an enlarged prostate that blocks the flow of urine and allows bacteria to have an easier time entering the urinary tract.
In most cases, the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the cause of a UTI. Since the urethra is close to the anus, it is easy for bacteria from the large intestine to enter the urethra. From there, the bacteria travels up to your bladder and can continue on to affect your kidneys if left untreated.
Sex is another common cause of a UTI in women, as the physical act of intercourse exposes a woman’s urethra to bacteria from the anal area. After contact is made, it is easy for bacteria to travel into the urinary system and cause an infection.
Related: The Science Behind a UTI
Signs of a Urinary Tract Infection
Signs of a urinary tract infection vary depending on what part of the urinary tract is infected.
Lower tract UTIs specifically affect the urethra and bladder. These early UTI symptoms include:
- Frequent need to urinate
- Intense urge to go to the bathroom, but only produce a small amount of urine
- Burning sensation during urination
- Loss of urine control
- Pelvic pain (in women) and rectal pain (in men)
- Dark or cloudy urine
- Foul-smelling urine
- Blood in urine
Upper tract UTIs affect the kidneys, and can be potentially life threatening if the bacteria moves from the kidneys into the blood. These signs of a UTI include:
- Pain and tenderness in the upper back and sides
A urologist is usually able to diagnose a UTI after asking about your symptoms and testing a urine sample. Once diagnosed, antibiotics are the most common treatment for urinary tract infections, and symptoms often clear up within a few days. However, as is the case with all antibiotics, it is important to take the entire course of treatment as prescribed, even after you start to feel better.
In addition to antibiotics, a urologist might prescribe some medication to ease the pain until the infection is resolved. Of course, it will also help to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to help flush out the infection-causing bacteria. You also might find a heating pad useful to help soothe the pain. If you have three or more UTIs a year, ask your doctor to recommend a treatment plan for recurrent UTIs.
You can take these steps to help reduce your risk of developing a UTI:
- Drink cranberry juice: It’s not just an old wives’ tale! There is a tannin in cranberries that helps prevent E. coli bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall and causing an infection.
- Wipe from front to back: Doing so helps prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the urethra.
- Empty your bladder soon after intercourse: Sex is a common trigger for UTIs, but can be prevented by cleaning the genital area before any sexual activity, and by urinating afterwards.
- Avoid potentially irritating feminine products: Feminine products such as deodorant sprays, douches, and powders can irritate the urethra and increase your risk of developing a UTI.
- Change your birth control method: Diaphragms can increase bacteria growth, while unlubricated condoms or spermicidal jelly can irritate your urinary tract.
- Keep your genital area dry: Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes; avoid tight jeans and nylon underwear, as they can trap moisture and grow bacteria.
- Avoid holding urine for long periods of time: If you don’t empty your bladder regularly, bacteria is more likely to sit and multiply in the bladder.
When to See a Professional
If you are experiencing the early signs of a UTI, see a doctor as soon as possible. Putting off a visit to the doctor if you have symptoms of a UTI will not only prolong your discomfort, but could also lead to complications. If detected early, a UTI is usually easy to treat and has no lasting effect on your urinary tract. However, if left untreated, a UTI can also affect your bladder and kidneys.
To help rid yourself of a painful UTI, contact the Urology Specialists of the Carolinas today for an appointment. A simple examination and urine or blood test could save you a lot of trouble in the long run. With a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, you will be on the road to recovery in no time.
In addition to seeing a professional, your nutrition and lifestyle play a huge role in a happy and healthy urinary tract system. Download our Nutrition and Lifestyle Guide to learn our top tips and tricks for maintaining and achieving optimal urology health.
This content was originally published in February 2015 and was refreshed in December 2020.