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Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the most common problems that occur in women. There are two types of UTIs. Lower tract infections (cystitis, bladder infection, urethritis) involve the bladder and urethra. Upper tract infections (pyelonephritis) involve the kidneys and ureters.


Urinary tract infections are usually caused when problematic bacteria get into the bladder.

UTIs are much more frequent in women than men, largely due to anatomical differences. The nearness of the female urethral opening to the vagina and rectum makes it easy for bacteria to enter the urinary tract. Furthermore, the female urethra is only one and one-half inches long; this permits infectious organisms to ascend into the bladder, ureters, and kidneys.

What Contributes to UTIs?

Common conditions that may alter normal functioning and make you more susceptible to a urinary tract infection are:

  • sexual intercourse
  • pregnancy
  • ignoring or resisting the urge to urinate
  • lowered resistance to infection (stress, poor general health, or other illness)
  • spermicide and/or diaphragm use

Symptoms of Lower Tract Infections (Bladder Infection)

Most women exhibit some of the following:

  • burning or pain on urination
  • urgent need to urinate
  • urinating small amounts
  • frequently urination
  • pressure or cramps in the middle of the lower abdomen
  • occasional blood in the urine

Certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and vaginal infections may cause symptoms similar to those of a urinary tract infection.

Symptoms of Upper Tract Infections

Most women exhibit some of the following:

  • fever and/or chills 
  • nausea or vomiting 
  • pain in the back or side 
  • fatigue 
  • symptoms of lower tract infection

Diagnosing UTIs

To diagnose a urinary tract infection, your healthcare provider will listen to your symptoms, may perform an examination, and may ask for a urine sample to send to the laboratory for analysis. The presence of infection-fighting white blood cells, red blood cells, bacteria, or nitrites (a waste product of bacterial growth) in the urine sample confirms the diagnosis of UTI. A culture of the urine may be performed to determine the exact organism causing the infection and the best antibiotic to prescribe.

Treating UTIs

You will be started on an antibiotic if your symptoms and/or urinalysis indicate an infection. Take ALL the antibiotic as prescribed even if symptoms disappear. Missing antibiotic doses will increase the risk that a "silent" UTI may remain and symptoms return in the future. Antibiotics may also increase your risk of getting a vaginal yeast infection.

Drink plenty of fluids because the increased urine volume flushes the organisms from the bladder.

A bladder pain medication (e.g. phenazopyridine) is occasionally prescribed for severe burning with urination. This medication can also be found over-the-counter in a lesser strength. (Ask your pharmacist) This medication may change the color of the urine to red-orange or brown. It may also stain your clothing and contact lenses. These medicines do not treat the underlying infection.

Upper urinary tract infections can involve the kidneys and may require additional tests, longer courses of antibiotics, and sometimes intravenous medication and hospitalization.


It is not unusual for UTIs to recur for some women. There are some things you can do to help prevent getting another UTI:

  • Empty your bladder immediately after intercourse
  • Wipe from front to back following urination or bowel movement 
  • Always empty your bladder completely and often 
  • When using condoms, use those with plain lubricant and no spermicide
  • Decrease potential urinary irritants use such as caffeine, carbonated beverages, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, perfumed body wash, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, and thongs.

Recent studies on recurrent UTIs suggest that long-term preventive antibiotics may help women with frequent recurrences. Antibiotics after intercourse may be helpful for women experiencing UTIs after sexual activity. Your healthcare provider may want to discuss these options, perform additional tests, or consider evaluation by a urologist if you have frequent UTIs.

Call the Advice Nurse if any of the following happens:

  • Symptoms do not improve in 2 days 
  • Fever develops or persists after 2 days of treatment 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Side or back pain 
  • Symptoms return after treatment 
  • New, unexplained symptoms develop


In an emergency go to Mount Nittany Medical Center or call 911 for an ambulance.

Test Results and Advice Nurse

Send a secure message to the advice nurse via myUHS or call 814-865-4UHS (4847) (Press 3). 


Schedule an appointment online or by calling the UHS.  

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. This information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis, or treatment by a healthcare professional.

Approved by the UHS Patient Education Committee Revised 01/2022

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Urinary Tract Infections


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