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Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) 101

Nearly 2/3 of women will get a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) in their lifetime. This very common bacterial infection is common in teenage girls, especially those who may be sexually active. UTIs usually start in the bladder and can be very uncomfortable. They are easily diagnosed and treated, but if not taken care of can lead to more serious health problems, such as a kidney or blood infection.

What causes a UTI?

UTIs are caused by bacteria that are commonly found in the genital area. A bladder infection, also called cystitis, starts when bacteria moves from the urethra (the opening in the vagina where urine comes out) into the bladder. Some situations increase the possibility of a bladder infection, including sexual intercourse and pregnancy. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the female anatomy “makes women prone to getting UTIs because bacteria in the vaginal area can migrate into the urethra”.

However, if you aren’t sexually active and not pregnant, and still get a UTI, you might be wondering: what did I do wrong? In general, nothing! But it is important to be vigilant when using tampons and spermicides; and to empty your bladder frequently.

What are the signs of a UTI?

Symptoms of a UTI include:

  • A strong and/or frequent urge to urinate
  • Sharp pain or burning while peeing (called dysuria)
  • Soreness in lower abdomen, back, or sides
  • Urine that is cloudy, has a strong odor, or is tinged with blood
  • Fever and chills

How do I treat a UTI?

If you think you have a UTI, it’s important to address the issue right away. While there is the possibility for a UTI to go away on its own, in most cases, when left untreated can escalate to greater health risks.

To begin UTI treatment, it needs to first be diagnosed by your healthcare provider. Your provider may ask you to come to the clinic to leave a urine sample for analysis. If the sample has cells consistent with infection, you’ll be prescribed antibiotics.

How can I prevent a UTI in the future?

Because it is common for women to get more than one UTI in their lifetime, you’ll want to take certain precautionary measures to avoid future UTIs. Fortunately, most preventative measures are all about good hygiene! Some tips for preventing a future UTI include:

  • Use the bathroom frequently and avoid holding urine for long periods of time
  • Keep your genital area clean and dry
  • Change your tampons and pads regularly during your period
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to moisture
  • Wear cotton underwear
  • If you are sexually active, go to the bathroom before sex, as well as within 15 minutes after intercourse (and of course, keep the area clean afterwards)
  • Drink lots of water!

girl taking antibiotic for UTI