Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. 2000;61(3):721

See related article on urinary tract infections during pregnancy.

What is a urinary tract infection?

Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria. The most common type of urinary tract infection is a bladder infection. Other types of urinary tract infections are kidney infections and infections of the urethra. The urethra is the small tube that goes from the bladder to the outside of your body.

How do I know if I have a urinary tract infection?

Urinary tract infections may cause different symptoms in different people. You may feel a burning when you urinate. You may need to urinate more often, sometimes 30 to 60 minutes later. Or, you may feel like you need to go again right after you've just urinated. You may notice blood in your urine or a strong odor.

Sometimes germs can grow in the urinary tract but you won't have any of these symptoms. This is called asymptomatic (pronounced: a-simp-toe-mat-ik) bacteriuria. Your doctor can test to find out if you have this. Asymptomatic bacteriuria should be treated in pregnant women, but doesn't need to be treated in most other women.

How will the urinary tract infection affect my baby?

If you have a urinary tract infection and it isn't treated, it may lead to a kidney infection. Kidney infections may cause early labor. Fortunately, asymptomatic bacteriuria and bladder infections can usually be found and treated before the kidneys become infected. If your doctor treats a urinary tract infection early and properly, it won't hurt your baby.

How do you treat a urinary tract infection?

Your doctor will prescribe a medicine that is safe for you and the baby. You can help by drinking a lot of water to help flush the germs from your urine.

How do I know if the treatment isn't working?

If you have a fever (over 100.5 degrees), chills, lower stomach pains, nausea, vomiting or flank pain, you should call your doctor. You should also call your doctor if you have any contractions, or if, after taking medicine for three days, you still have a burning feeling when you urinate.

Can I keep this from happening again?

You can help prevent urinary tract infections in several ways. First, you should always drink plenty of liquids (water is the best). You should urinate often. Don't wait for long periods of time before you urinate. Always urinate after sexual intercourse. After you urinate, always wipe from front to back.

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