The infections are typically caused by bacteria that live in the colon. Female anatomy increases the risk, as the bacteria can easily migrate from the rectum or vagina to the urethra and into the bladder. Sexual activity is the leading cause of the infection. Changes associated with menopause also increase susceptibility to recurrent infections.
Most urinary tract infections affect the bladder and lower urinary tract. They often are referred to as cystitis or a bladder infection. Classic symptoms are the frequent urge to urinate, even if only passing small amounts, a burning sensation or pain when urinating, abdominal pain or pressure, cloudy, dark or bloody urine, or foul-smelling urine.
If the infection moves upstream to the kidneys, additional symptoms are likely, such as fatigue, weakness or feeling faint, and difficulty walking or thinking clearly. Other symptoms could include a fever of 101 F or greater, shaking and chills, upper back and side pain, and nausea or vomiting. A suspected kidney infection warrants immediate medical care to prevent the bacteria from entering the bloodstream. Kidney infection treatment may require several weeks of antibiotics.
For uncomplicated infections confined to the bladder and lower urinary tract, treatment most often is a single course of antibiotics. The most appropriate medication will depend on the strain of bacteria causing the infection. A doctor confirms the diagnosis with a urine sample.
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