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Urinary Tract Infection

Approximately 40 percent of women and 12 percent of men will experience a urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetime. When the bacterial infection affects the lower urinary tract it is known as cystitis or bladder infection. If the upper urinary tract is involved it is called pyelonephritis or kidney infection. The urologists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) are experts at diagnosing and treating urinary tract infections.

Urinary Tract Infection Topics

Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infection

During a UTI, the lining of the bladder and urethra become irritated, causing a host of symptoms. You may experience:

  • Frequent urination
  • Urgency when urinating
  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Urinary leakage
  • Blood in the urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • Urine with an unpleasant smell
  • Abdominal and pelvic pain or pressure
  • Pain in the back or side, below the ribs
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
Causes of Urinary Tract Infection

There are many triggers for UTIs, including:

  • Escherichia coli (E. coli) or other bacteria move up into the bladder from the vagina and rectum.
  • In women, certain birth controls such as diaphragms and condoms with spermicidal foam increase risk.
  • Disorders such as diabetes reduce infection immunity and increase UTI risk.
  • Obstruction in the urinary tract.
  • Recent catheterization.
  • Anatomical abnormalities such as diverticula.
Types of Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infection is characterized by three different types:

  • Urethritis, an infection of the urethra, the hollow tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.
  • Cystitis, a bacterial infection in the bladder usually caused by bacteria entering through the urethra.
  • Pyelonephritis, an infection of the kidneys usually caused by bacteria ascending from the bladder that spread up the tract, or from an obstruction in the urinary tract.
Diagnosis of Urinary Tract Infection

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic tests and procedures may include:

  • Urine culture, a test to find and identify germs that may cause a UTI.
  • Urinalysis, a laboratory examination of urine for white blood cells, infection or excessive protein.
  • CT-scan, an imaging study of the kidney, ureters and bladder with contrast dye to find abnormalities or obstructions, and to assess renal blood flow.
  • Cystoscopy enables an urologist to view the inside of the bladder and urethra via a thin tube.
  • Renal ultrasound bounces painless sound waves off the kidney to create an image of its structure to detect abnormalities.
Treatment for Urinary Tract Infections

Specific treatment for your UTI will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your allergen tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Behavior modifications, including:
    • Drinking plenty of water to cleanse the urinary tract of bacteria
Prevention of Urinary Tract Infection

It is not possible to prevent every UTI, but there are steps you can take to reduce risk:

  • Urinate after intercourse
  • Stay well hydrated. Six to eight glasses of liquids a day.
  • Cranberry extract may reduce the risk of UTIs. Drink cranberry juice or take in pill form.
  • Post-menopause, ask your doctor about vaginal estrogen supplements
  • Avoid baths, hot tubs or swimming if these trigger UTIs
What You Should Expect

You will receive a thorough diagnostic evaluation and receive clinically-proven treatment by a board-certified urologist who specializes in urinary tract infections. Our goal is to alleviate symptoms so you can return to every life. Appointments are confidential and private.

Multidisciplinary Care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital practices a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, routinely collaborating with colleagues in other medical specialties. If your urologist discovers that an underlying illness has contributed to your UTI, you will be referred to an appropriate BWH physician for an evaluation.


Go to our online health library to learn more about urology diseases and tests.

Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.

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