Okay, first let's clarify some name confusion. In the medical world - the term urinary tract infection (UTI) actually includes:
- Infections in the lower urinary tract (your bladder) which is called cystitis - this is usually what people mean when they say UTI, and
- Infections in the upper urinary tract or kidneys which is called pyelonephritis - these are usually much more serious
So, usually when we say UTI we are talking about bladder infections (cystitis). Women get bacterial cystitis pretty commonly, and about 10% of women will have a bladder infection in a given year. Women get UTIs more frequently partly because they have a shorter urethra than men (since they don't have a penis), so bad bacteria can get into the bladder more easily.
Cystitis / Bladder Infections
These lower urinary tract infections (commonly just called UTIs) are actually the most common bacterial infections in women. In young and otherwise healthy women we usually call a bacterial bladder infection a case of acute uncomplicated cystitis.
The classic symptoms include:
- Pain when going pee,
- Needing to pee all the time, and
- Needing to pee all of a sudden urgently
Sometimes you can also have pain in the area near the middle of your hips and below your belly button where your bladder sits. You may also have a small amount of blood in the urine. Usually these infections resolve quickly with simple antibiotics.
Older women or those with other health issues can get more complicated infections that have different symptoms like confusion, and that require different treatment.
Sometimes the bacteria from the bladder can keep moving up the urinary tract and get into the kidneys and cause bacterial pyelonephritis. This can be a lot more serious and potentially require hospitalization or intravenous (IV) antibiotics. Some of the warning signs that we look for are:
- Fever of over 99.9 degrees Fahrenheit
- Worsening back pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling sick
If you are having, or you develop these symptoms, then you should usually seek emergency care or talk to your doctor if you can reach them quickly. All types of urinary tract infections are potentially deadly, but kidney infections are particularly serious - so don't try to tough it out.