The Complete Guide to Urinary Tract Infections in Adults


Urinary tract infections, also known as UTIs, are usually caused by microbes. Microbes are tiny organisms whose size makes it hard for them to be seen, even with the help of a microscope. Bacteria are the major cause of UTIs, though there are some cases that are caused by fungi. Viruses also cause this condition but cases are rare. Of all infections that affect humans, UTIs are among the most recurring.

The human urinary tract is made up of the urethra, bladder, ureters and the kidneys. A UTI can occur in any of these parts. The urethra and bladder, that is the lower tract, are the most common sites of infection. However, infections can also occur in the upper tract, that’s the kidneys and ureters. Though they occur less frequently, upper tract UTIs are more severe than lower tract UTIs.

UTI Symptoms

Symptoms are dependent on what part is infected.

The urethra and bladder make up the lower tract. Symptoms of a UTI in the lower tract include:

  • Burning with urination
  • Low amounts of urine with an increased frequency of passing the same
  • A higher urgency of passing urine
  • Bloody urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • Urine that resembles tea or cola
  • Urine with a strong odor
  • Pelvic pain in women
  • Rectal pain in men

Kidneys are affected by the upper tract UTIs. If it happens that the bacteria move into the blood from the infected kidney, the condition might prove to be life-threatening. This condition, referred to as urosepsis, may lead to shock, death, and extremely low blood pressure.

Symptoms of the upper tract UTI include:

  • Pain accompanied by tenderness in the upper back as well as the sides
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Symptoms of UTI in Men

Similar symptoms occur in both men and women in the upper tract urinary infection. For the lower tract UTI in men, in addition to the common symptoms that occur in both genders, rectal pains may arise.

Symptoms of UTI in Women

In both genders, symptoms of infections in the upper urinary tract are similar. However, pelvic pains may arise in women, accompanied by the other common symptoms associated with upper tract infections.

UTI Treatment

UTI treatment is dependent on the cause of the infection. Some tests will be carried out after which your doctor will be able to accurately poi out the cause of the infection depending on the results.

The majority of the cases are caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are used to treat these cases.

Antivirals are used to treat conditions that are caused by viruses. The main choice for viral infections is usually the antiviral cidofovir. Antifungals are used to treat conditions whose cause is fungal infections.

Antibiotics for a UTI

The choice of antibiotic that will be chosen to treat a UTI will depend on the part of the tract that has been infected. Oral antibiotics can be used to treat infections in the lower tract. Intravenous antibiotics, on the other hand, are used to treat upper tract UTIs. These antibiotics are injected into your veins directly.

At times, bacteria will develop a resistance to certain antibiotics. A urine culture test can help your doctor to determine the kind of antibiotic that will work best to destroy the bacteria causing the infection.

Further treatments for bacterial UTIs, other than antibiotics, are still under development. It might be possible in the future to treat bacterial UTIs without using antibiotics. This will be achieved by altering the interaction between the bacteria and the body by changing cell chemistry.

Homemade Remedies for a UTI

Though UTIs might be treated without antibiotics in the future, they, for now, remain the most effective treatment method. Prescription medications, however, do not have to be the only mode of treatment that you can use.

The likelihood of infections occurring again can be reduced by incorporating some home remedies, alongside the standard recommended therapy. These remedies will also help you to feel better sooner.

Try Cranberries. Cranberries contain ingredients that prevent bacteria from attaching themselves to the walls of the urinary tract. To reduce the risk of UTI, consider using unsweetened cranberry juice, eating dried cranberries as snacks or taking cranberry supplements.

Stay away from cranberry juice if you are taking NSAIDs like aspirin or blood-thinning medication such as warfarin.

Drink Plenty of Water. It is highly important that you stay hydrated when you are suffering from a UTI. The pain associated with urinating during this period should not deter you from drinking plenty of water. This is because urinating allows you to remove the harmful bacteria from your urinary tract.

Pee When You Need To. The multiplication of bacteria in the urinary tract is aided by holding in too much urine. Therefore, make sure not to ignore that urge to urinate. Make it a habit to visit the bathroom even at the slightest urge.

Take Probiotics. Probiotics boost the immunity and promote healthy digestion. They may also have properties that enable them to prevent and treat UTIs. With a UTI, good bacteria, referred to as vaginal lactobacilli, are replaced by bad bacteria. Probiotics will not only restore the good bacteria, but they will also reduce UTI symptoms.

Eat Garlic. While there still doesn’t exist extensive research on the effect of garlic on UTIs, a particular study found that it can be used as an immune booster, anti-inflammatory, and a powerful antioxidant. All these properties will come in handy in the fight against UTIs.

Try Apple Cider Vinegar. Apple cider vinegar prevents the growth of bacteria by making the urine acidic. This makes it easier to remove the harmful bacteria from your urinary tract. This method should not be used as a long-term treatment because vinegar can damage tooth enamel due to its highly acidic nature.

If you are currently taking medications for heart disease or diabetes mellitus, consult your doctor before deciding to use apple cider vinegar.

Get More Vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential in the body because it strengthens the immune system and consequently helps your body to fight off infections. Thus, increasing the intake of this vitamin will definitely help you fight off urinary tract infection.

Though UTIs are painful, treatment can help you to prevent future infections from ever taking place again. Should any symptoms arise, consult your doctor immediately and get to know about the right medication for you. You should be back to your normal self within a few days.

A secondary condition may take advantage of the poor state of your health at that moment. To prevent this, make sure that you complete the dosage even after you feel much better.

Further testing will most likely be done if the prescribed antibiotics fail to get rid of the UTI, or if secondary infections occur.

The tests can be in many forms including a urinary tract ultrasound, a repeat urine culture, urodynamic testing, plain film X-ray, cystoscopy or a CT scan. If your UTI is quite chronic or if the level of severity is too much for your doctor to handle, you might be referred to a urologist.

There are specific strains of bacteria that can cause UTIs which range from mild to severe. There are several factors which determine just how severe the UTI is:

  • The status of your immune system
  • The specific bacterium causing the infection
  • The specific area in the urinary tract that is affected.

A bacterial colonization that may not lead to a UTI may also happen in the urinary tract. Your physician will have to carry out certain tests that are specific to your condition and thereafter make the correct diagnosis and determine the best therapy for your condition.

Untreated UTIs

Just like any other illness, a UTI has to be treated before it spreads to other locations. The earlier this is done, the better. If it is not treated it could easily become severe if it spreads. A lower urinary tract is usually much easier to treat. If allowed to spread to the upper tract, it can easily spread to your blood leading to sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition.

Call your doctor immediately if the slightest sign indicating a UTI arises. It will only take a blood or urine test or just a simple examination, which could turn out to save your life in the long run.

UTI Diagnosis

If, based on your systems, you suspect you could be suffering from a UTI, contact your doctor. Your doctor will review the symptoms after which he will perform a physical examination. Just to confirm the diagnosis, a urine test to check for microbes will be carried out.

For the urine test, the sample has to be a “clean catch.” This means that the urine sample will have to be collected at the middle of the urinary stream, and not at the beginning. This helps to avoid the yeast and bacteria on your skin since they can contaminate the urine sample. The procedure for doing this will be given by your doctor.

Your doctor will check to see if there is a big number of white blood cells in the urine sample. This is the indication of an infection. The urine culture will also be done in order to test for fungi or bacteria. The culture will serve two functions; determining the case of the infection and guiding your doctor in deciding the right medication for your condition.

If the doctor suspects that a virus could be the cause of your condition, further tests will need to be carried out. Though viral UTIs are rare, they are seen in people who have undergone organ transplants or who suffer from other conditions which lead to the weakening of the immune system.

Urinary Tract Infection in Older Adults

Some vague and uncommon symptoms like confusion lead to a more complicated process of diagnosing UTIs in older adults. A simple urinalysis is enough for your doctor your doctor to confirm a UTI if he suspects that you could be having the condition. A urine culture test is necessary to determine the specific bacteria causing the UTI as well as determining the best medication for your condition.

There also exists some UTI test which can be done at home to check for leukocytes and nitrates in the urine. Both of them are present in urinary tract infections. These tests are not always accurate in older adults since their urine contains some bacteria to some extent. If your home test returns a positive result, call your doctor for more guidance.

Treating a UTI in Older Adults

For younger people and older adults, antibiotics are usually the treatment of choice. Your doctor may prescribe nitrofurantoin (Macrobid, Macrodantin) and amoxicillin. A broad-spectrum antibiotic may be required if the condition is more severe. Such medication includes levofloxacin (Levaquin) and ciprofloxacin (Cetraxal, Ciloxan.)

Antibiotics should be your first priority and they should also be taken for the entire treatment period. One should be back to normal in a few days. You should not stop taking the medications early even if your symptoms resolve. This is because by doing this, you increase the risk of bacterial resistance and recurrence.

Drinking plenty of water during treatment is of extreme importance since it helps to get rid of the remaining bacteria from the urinary tract.

Prophylactic antibiotics are usually prescribed for people who have three or more UTIs in a span of 12 months or those who have two or more UTIs in a period of 6 months.

Over the counter pain, relievers for UTIs may be recommended for healthy older adults who need to reduce the pain during urination or ease frequent urination. Such drugs include ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) and phenazopyridine (Azo.) back pain and pelvic pain can be dealt with by use of a hot water bottle or a heating pad. Older adults who may be suffering from other conditions should only use home remedies after consulting their doctors.

Upper Tract UTIs

Blood cultures and a complete blood count may be necessary if your doctor suspects the presence of an upper tract UTI. The other common urine test will also have to be done as well. Just to be certain that the infection has not yet spread to the bloodstream, a blood culture is important.

Recurrent UTIs

Recurrent UTIs might be an indication that you have some obstructions or abnormalities in your urinary tract. Tests to confirm this will be required. They include:

  • An ultrasound. In this test, a physician will pass a transducer over your abdomen. This device takes pictures of the urinary tract which are in turn displayed on a monitor. These images are created using ultrasound waves.
  • An intravenous pyelogram. This test involves taking an X-ray of the urinary tract after injecting a dye into your body. This dye makes your urinary tract more visible by highlighting it as it moves through.
  • A cystoscopy. This test uses a small camera which is inserted into your bladder through the urethra. It allows the doctor to see inside of your bladder. During this test, your doctor may see it fir to extract a small piece of tissue from the bladder and later test it in order to rule out other conditions like cancer and bladder inflammation as the cause of your condition.
  • A computerized tomography, more commonly known as a CT scan, is used to get more detailed and clearer images of the urinary tract.

Causes and Risk Factors

Anything that leads to irritation of the urinary tract or reduces the emptying of your bladder is a potential cause of UTIs. There are also other factors that can lead to increased risk of contracting a UTI. These factors include:

  • Prolonged bed rest or reduced mobility after surgery
  • Age – UTIs are more frequent in older adults
  • A previous UTI
  • Kidney stones
  • A weakened immune system
  • Development of abnormal urinary structures from birth
  • Poorly controlled diabetes may increase your chances of getting a UTI
  • Blockages or obstructions in your urinary tract. These may include certain forms of cancer, kidney stones, and enlarged prostate.
  • Use of urinary catheters for extended periods of time makes it easier for bacteria to make their way into your body.

Additional Risk Factors of UTI in Men

Most of these risk factors in men are similar to those that occur in women. Having an enlarged prostate is, however, a factor that occurs in men only.

Additional Risk Factors of UTI in Women

Women also have some more risk factors. There are some risk factors that were previously believed to cause UTIs in women but it has been discovered that they are not as harmful. An example of this is poor bathroom hygiene. Wiping from back to front after visiting the bathroom was once thought to be a cause of UTIs. However, recent studies have not yet shown the relationship between the two.

In a few cases, the risk of these factors can be reduced by certain lifestyle changes.

Shorter Urethra. The likelihood of occurrence of UTIs is determined by the location and the length of the urethra. In women, the urethra is located quite close to both the anus and the vagina. Naturally occurring bacteria around both of these organs, that is the anus and vagina, may lead to infection is the urethra and in the rest of the organs in the urinary tract. Since the urethra in women is shorter than in men, bacteria have a shorter distance to travel before they get to the bladder.

Sexual Intercourse. During sexual intercourse, a pressure is applied to the urinary tract. This may cause bacteria to enter the bladder from the anal region. After intercourse, most women have some bacteria in their urinary tracts. The body is equipped with mechanisms that allow it to get rid of these bacteria in 24 hours. However, other bacteria such as bowel bacteria have unique properties that enable them to attach themselves to the bladder.

Spermicides. Spermicides increase the risk of UTI. They cause irritation of the skin in some women. This causes a higher risk of bacteria making their way into the bladder.

Condom Use During Sex. Condoms that are not lubricated cause irritation of the skin of women, by increasing friction, during sexual intercourse.

Condoms are important since they reduce the risk and spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). To help prevent skin irritation and friction from condoms, make sure that you use a water-based lubricant. Make sure that it’s enough and use it during sexual intercourse.

Diaphragms. Pressure may be applied to the urethra by the diaphragm. This may decrease bladder emptying.

A decrease in Estrogen Levels. The normal bacteria level in the vagina changes after menopause due to decreased estrogen levels. This leads to an increased risk of UTI.

How to Prevent UTI

The following steps can help anyone to prevent the occurrence of UTIs:

  • Avoid holding in urine for extended periods of time.
  • Drink at least six glasses of water daily.
  • Consult your doctor about difficulties in emptying your bladder fully or managing urinary incontinence.

However, there is a higher chance of UTIs to occur in women than in men. In fact, the ratio stands at 8:1. Translated, this means that for each man with UTI, there are eight women suffering from the condition.

Taking certain measures may help prevent the occurrence of this condition in women. For those who are already at menopause, topical estrogen might make a difference in the prevention of UTIs. Preventive antibiotics to be taken after sexual intercourse may be prescribed if your doctor suspects that intercourse could be a factor. Some studies have revealed that long-term use of antibiotics as a preventive measure reduces the risk of occurrence of UTI.

Using vaginal probiotics or taking cranberry supplements daily has been shown to help prevent the occurrence of UTIs. Studies have shown that changes in the bacteria that exist in the vagina can reduce recurrence and occurrence of UTIs. These changes are made by using probiotic vaginal suppositories.

Make sure that you talk with your doctor about the best prevention plan for your condition.

Chronic UTIs

After treatment, most UTIs disappear. Chronic UTIs will either not go away or they will keep recurring. Recurrence of UTIs is common among women.

In most of the recurrent cases, it’s usually the same bacteria causing the infection. Some cases, however, are not necessarily based on the same bacteria. It is usually an abnormality in the urinary tract structure that causes the recurring infections.

UTIs During Pregnancy

UTIs during pregnancy should be treated seriously since they can lead to premature delivery and high blood pressure. If you are pregnant and you experience any of the symptoms of UTIs, make sure to see your doctor immediately. UTIs are more likely to spread to the kidneys during pregnancy.

Can I Use Essential Oils to Treat UTI?

Some studies have revealed that specific types of essential oils can be used to fight bacterial infections. For instance, lemongrass oil can be used to fight microorganisms that have developed a resistance to drugs.

One study aimed to find out how effective lemongrass was against harmful pathogens, including Bacillus cereus (B. cereus), Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), Klebsiella pneumoniae (K. pneumoniae), Bacillus subtilis (B. subtilis) and Escherichia coli (E. coli). The results revealed that lemongrass killed all of these harmful pathogens.

The process can be a bit tricky. Since the urinary tract is sterile, the introduction of foreign elements into the area is not advised.

Dilution of the essential oils is necessary before application. To dilute them, add 1 to 5 drops to 1 ounce of carrier oil. Carrier oils include olive oil, sweet almond oil, sunflower oil and coconut oil.

The following points will help you avoid any irritation:

  • Mucous membranes of the urethra or vagina should not come into contact with essential oils. This may cause irritation in the female parts.
  • Direct application of essential oils to the skin should be avoided.
  • The essential oil-carrier oil mixture can be applied to the nos pubis, outside the labia and in areas around the inner thighs.
  • You may want to try incorporating your favorite oils and place them on your lower abdomen in a hot compress. For dilution use a ratio of 1:1.
  • If your skin is easily irritable, try using inhaling essential oils by dropping them into a diffuser.

Citrus Fresh, a blend made from Young Living, is the essential oil that has proven to be effective against any type of bacteria. It is a blend of several types of citrus oils that include tangerine peel, grapefruit peel, and lemon peel. It is also a very powerful anti-bacterial agent. Other oils you may want to try are rosemary, basis oils and oregano.

Risks and Warnings

The following precautions should be taken when dealing with essential oils:

Dilute the Essential Oil. Carrier oils should be used to dilute essential oils.

Test It First. A test is important since it tells you if the product will cause any irritation. Apply the mixture to a small part of your forearm and wait for 24 to 48 hours. If there are no side effects, then the oil is safe for use. Lemongrass has been shown to cause skin irritation.

Don’t Swallow Essential Oils. Oral ingestion of essential oils is not recommended. If it should be done, a certified and well-trained aromatherapist should be present.

Dealing with Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Continued use of antibiotics has created concerns as some bacteria are continuously developing resistance to these antibiotics. This is especially common in women.

For this reason, efforts to find a non-antibiotic treatment for UTIs have been welcomed by the medical community. However, a safe alternative for women is still not yet with us, according to this study.

Dr. Rick Pescatore said that this phenomenon happens year in year out. According to a study conducted in 2010, ibuprofen may be similar to a certain antibiotic that is not recommended for UTI treatment since bacteria have developed resistance to it.

Since that study, several investigations have revealed ibuprofen is inferior and that it may actually be a risk factor in its own right.

The results of the study showed that ibuprofen took longer to completely heal UTI while antibiotics were faster. In addition, febrile urinary tract infection occurred in women who were treated with ibuprofen, while serious kidney infections occurred in 3.9% of those who were treated with ibuprofen.

The findings of the study indeed give some hope since there were some patients who were healed totally without using antibiotics.

Complications Associated with Ibuprofen

Due to the high risk of upper UTIs as well as other complications, ibuprofen has proven to be unsafe for treatment of UTIs. The authors of the study stated that they cannot recommend ibuprofen as a lone treatment for UTIs.

Dr. Pescatore supports this sentiment, adding that guidelines for the use of ibuprofen in UTI treatment do not exist.

Pescatore went on to say that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), along with ibuprofen cause issues as well. “The studies that were tasked with finding out whether ibuprofen is safe for use in the treatment of UTIs also discovered some of the significant risks that are associated with the drug.” Pescatore also added that ibuprofen can also cause damage to the kidney.

Dr. Kimberly L. Cooper, however, recommends ibuprofen along with over the counter drugs for suppressing UTI symptoms.

She says that antibiotics are not always necessary since the bacteria found in the urine can be transient and not necessarily pathological. This is the reason that ibuprofen is recommended, for relief from symptoms. That may be all that’s needed at times.

Your doctor may recommend ibuprofen to ease the effects of the symptoms, at least until the UTI clears out on its own. They may also recommend antibiotics right away.

Dr. Cooper also said that you should seek medical attention immediately if you experience nausea, back pain, and fever.


If you decide to use an essential oil for the treatment of UTIs, consult your doctor first. Ask whether there may be other complications to consider.

Choose high-quality oil and make sure to dilute it before applying to the skin. Instead of direct application, it is recommended that you first use a compress. This will help you to avoid skin irritation.

To equip your body with the strength to fight infections, eat fresh and nutritious foods, get plenty of rest and keep yourself hydrated. Fluids will assist in flushing out the bacteria in the urinary tract. If you want to use an antibiotic and essential oil at once, consult your doctor on how to go about it.

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