What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?
About half of women will get a urinary tract infection or UTI at some point in life. It happens when germs infect the system that carries urine out of your body -- the kidneys, bladder, and the tubes that connect them. Bladder infections are common and usually not serious if treated promptly. But if the infection spreads to the kidneys, it can cause more serious illness.
UTI Symptoms: Bladder Infection
Most UTIs are bladder infections. Symptoms include:
Pain or burning during urination
The urge to urinate often
Pain in the lower abdomen
Urine that is cloudy or foul-smelling
Some people may have no symptoms
UTI Symptoms: Kidney Infection
An untreated bladder infection can spread to the kidneys. Signs of this include:
Pain on either side of the lower back
Fever and chills
Nausea and vomiting
When to See Your Doctor
See your doctor right away if you have signs of a urinary tract infection. A bladder infection is generally not a medical emergency -- but some people have a higher risk for complications. This includes pregnant women, the elderly, and men, as well as people with diabetes, kidney problems, or a weakened immune system.
UTI or Something Else?
Although burning during urination is a telltale sign of a UTI, it can also be a symptom of certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs.) These include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. Simple lab tests are available to distinguish a UTI from an STD.
The main danger associated with untreated UTIs is that the infection may spread from the bladder to one or both kidneys. When bacteria attack the kidneys, they can cause damage that will permanently reduce kidney function. In people who already have kidney problems, this can raise the risk of kidney failure. There's also a small chance that the infection may enter the bloodstream and spread to other organs.