If you’ve never had a urinary tract infection, then how on earth are you supposed to know if you’ve got one cooking right now? Thankfully, there are a few telltale symptoms that can alert you to the fact that you may need to head to the doctor.
Your urinary tract is pretty long — it starts at your kidneys and ends with your urethra. It includes your bladder and your ureters, which are the ducts (or tubes) responsible for carrying urine from your kidney to your bladder. Any infection anywhere within this system can be called a UTI, but most infections are found in the lower part of your urinary tract — your bladder and urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder to its final resting place in your toilet).
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can include:
- Strong need to urinate
- Frequent need to urinate
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Passing frequent — yet small — amounts of urine
- Cloudy urine
- Urine that is red, pink or cola-colored
- Strong-smelling urine
- Pelvic pain in women (particularly in the center of the pelvis near the pubic bone)
Essentially, if you find yourself peeing often, experiencing a sudden urge to urinate, noticing your urine looks or smells differently than it normally does or have burning or pain upon urination, then it’s time to head to the doctor to get checked out.
Common UTI causes
UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract. (Hint: It’s not supposed to be there.) While our bodies are designed to keep these sorts of invaders away, sometimes it does happen. There are a few common ways UTIs can develop, so definitely don’t do these things if you’re wanting to avoid one (which is, of course, everybody).
Wiping from back to front. When you were a child, your mom probably told you to avoid wiping from back to front. If she didn’t, definitely stop now, because you’re basically dragging poop bacteria toward your vagina and urethra, where it absolutely does not belong.
“When one wipes from back to front, this increases the risk for UTIs since bacteria from the rectum may easily be moved toward the urethra,” Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, physician and health expert tells SheKnows.
Holding in your urine. Sometimes you don’t get a chance for a pee break, but if you can go, then go. “When you hold in your urine for too long, it may increase the risk for developing a urinary tract infection,” says Okeke-Igbokwe. “As urine sits in the bladder for prolonged periods of time, it can become the ideal environment for bacterial growth.”
Spermicide use. This is a huge bummer for those who rely on spermicide as part of their birth-control regimen, but there is a chance it can be a factor in UTI development. One of the main chemicals found in spermicide, nonoxynol-9, can alter the normal vaginal flora, which can create an environment in which certain bacteria can thrive.
“Increased colonization of bacteria such as E. coli in the vaginal region translates into increased opportunity for the bacteria to travel from the urethra up towards the urinary tract,” Okeke-Igbokwe explains.
Using sex toys that haven’t been cleaned. If you use a sex toy, clean it after use, says Okeke-Igbokwe. If you don’t, there’s a potential for bacteria to hang out on its surfaces, which can be introduced to your urethra, which can in turn find its way into your urinary tract.
Possible UTI complications
Antibiotics are the typical medical treatment for a UTI. If left untreated, however, it can lead to complications — namely a serious kidney infection. Also known as pyelonephritis, its symptoms can mimic those of a kidney stone, such as severe back pain and nausea and vomiting. It can also cause fever and chills and can include symptoms of a urinary tract infection, such as frequent urination or urine that doesn’t look right. These symptoms require an immediate medical evaluation, as leaving a kidney infection untreated can lead to sepsis, which can be fatal.
If you’re worried, see a doc, stat
If you suspect you’ve developed a UTI, it’s important to see a doctor to help prevent serious complications. Of course, not everyone who has a UTI experiences all these symptoms, so even if you have one symptom or are only mildly concerned, it’s important to see a doctor.
If you don’t think you have an infection, drink lots of water, pee when you have to go, wipe from front to back (please!) and clean sex toys after use. Hopefully, these tips will keep your urinary tract in tip-top shape.