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Health Service

Vassar College

What is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?

A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection of any part of the urinary tract. Most infections are lower tract infections and involve the bladder (cystitis). They are caused by a variety of bacteria, but the most common organism responsible is Escherichia coli. E. coli resides in the large intestine of all healthy men and women. Sexually transmitted infections can also give one UTI symptoms and should be considered in the diagnosis.

There are certain factors that increase the chance of infection. Sexually active women, because off the mechanics of sexual behavior, may be more prone to infections. Certain chemicals, such as those found in bubble baths, feminine hygiene sprays, and commercial douches can also make the urethra vulnerable to infection. Some women find that using a diaphragm increases their risk of getting a UTI.

Men are at lower risk for UTIs because of their anatomy. However, typical symptoms in a male need to be evaluated medically.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

A UTI often causes the bladder and urethra to be sensitive resulting in pain with urination, frequency of urination, and the feeling of an urgent need to urinate (even though only a small amount of urine may be passed). There is sometimes blood in the urine. UTIs can also be symptom-free.

Men may also have a discharge from the tip of the penis.

How is a UTI diagnosed?

The diagnosis of a UTI is based on symptoms and laboratory testing of a urine specimen or urethral discharge.

How is a UTI treated?

Antibiotics are prescribed. It is important to take the medication exactly as prescribed and to finish it even though symptoms often get better within a day or two. If pain is significant, there are medications to relieve this symptom. Although commonly prescribed, this pain medication can also be purchased over-the-counter.

While on medication, drink plenty of fluids. Avoid tea, coffee, and carbonated beverages because these beverages may irritate the bladder. It may help to abstain from intercourse until symptoms have completely subsided.

Return to the Health Service if your symptoms have not improved after several days on medication or if you develop new symptoms such as fever, low back pain, persistent blood in the urine, nausea, or vomiting. Also contact us if your symptoms come back after you finish taking all the medication.

How can I prevent urinary tract infections?

  • Avoid holding urine for long periods of time
  • Be sure to always wipe from front to back after each bowel movement
  • Drink adequate fluids every day
  • Urinate within a half hour after intercourse
  • If necessary, use a water-soluble lubricant such as KY Jelly during intercourse
  • Avoid bubble baths, feminine hygiene sprays, and commercial douches
  • Build up resistance to infection – plenty of rest and a healthy diet

When do I seek medical care?

All UTIs need medical care. Make an appointment as soon as possible as the symptoms can get worse quickly.