Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(5):1237

See related article on urinary tract infections in adults.

What is my risk of getting a urinary tract infection?

Urinary tract infections (also called “UTIs”) are very common. Each year, more than 7 million doctor's office visits are made because of UTIs. A woman is eight times more likely to get a UTI than a man. The main risk factors for UTIs are the following:

  • Sexual activity

  • Using a diaphragm and spermicide

  • Not urinating often during the daytime

  • Anatomic problems in the urinary tract

What are the symptoms of a UTI? How is it diagnosed?

People with UTIs may have the following signs and symptoms:

  • A strong and frequent need to urinate

  • A burning sensation when they urinate

  • Pain in their lower belly or back

  • A change in the color or smell of their urine

In young women, doctors can often diagnose a UTI based on the symptoms and a urine test called a “urinalysis.” In addition, the urine is sometimes cultured. In a culture, a little sample of urine is put in a lab dish to see what kind of bacteria “grows” on it. Your doctor can use the results of the urine culture to decide which medicine you need to get rid of your UTI.

How is a UTI treated?

Most of the time, if you are a woman, your UTI can be treated with an antibiotic taken for three days. However, you'll need to take medicine for 10 to 14 days if you keep having UTI symptoms or if your symptoms come back after treatment. Men with UTIs and people with special problems usually take medicine for 10 to 14 days.

Sometimes people with complicated UTIs have to be treated in a hospital. Many complicated infections are managed with intravenous antibiotics in the hospital, followed by oral therapy at home, or just oral antibiotics. (Intravenous medicines are put into your veins.)

Although many people think cranberry juice can cure a UTI, this hasn't been proved.

What can I do to keep from getting UTIs?

There are certain things that you can do to help avoid a UTI:

  • Urinate right after you have sexual intercourse.

  • Stop using a diaphragm with spermicide. Instead, use other birth control methods.

  • Urinate regularly and often during the day.

  • Drink plenty of water every day.

  • If you're going through menopause, estrogen replacement therapy may reduce the frequency of UTIs.

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