Greater Boston Urology Blog

FAQs About UTIs: Get the Facts

Anyone who's ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI) knows they are no fun. The burning, the urgency, the feeling of not being able to fully empty your bladder—the symptoms are enough to drive a person mad.

Unfortunately, UTIs are incredibly common. According to the Urology Care Foundation, "About 10 in 25 women and 3 in 25 men will have symptoms of a UTI during their lifetime."

And because they are so common, much misinformation exists online, which leads us to the purpose of this article. We asked one of our staff urogynecologists, Dr. Dima Ezzedine, to answer FAQs about UTIs.

As with all content on our blog, the following is meant to be educational in nature, not medical advice. Always consult your physician regarding your unique healthcare needs.

What is a UTI?

DR. EZZEDINE: A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a medical term that encompasses both bladder and kidney infections. A UTI is, however, used regularly to indicate uncomplicated simple bladder infections also known as cystitis. Typical symptoms of a UTI are burning with urination, pain in the bladder, frequency of urination, blood in urine, or new onset or worsening urinary leaking.

Can a UTI go away on its own?

DR. EZZEDINE: Yes! it can go away on its own in a healthy person with a strong immune system. But when it does not, it needs to be treated with antibiotics (agents that kill bacteria) to stop the uncomfortable symptoms and to prevent an ascending infection (bacteria climbing up from the bladder to the kidneys). 

How long do UTIs last?

DR. EZZEDINE: Duration of a UTI varies depending on if it gets treated or not. Typically, once properly treated, symptoms should subside within 48 hours. A patient should follow up with their doctor if symptoms do not go away or they come back shortly after finishing a course of antibiotics. 

UTI pain relief – do you have any over-the-counter (OTC) recommendations?

DR. EZZEDINE: There are many OTC medications and supplements that are marketed to help with UTI symptoms. Any product that contains "phenazopyridine"—a bladder analgesic agent—should help with pain relief. I don't recommend, however, taking phenazopyridine for more than a couple days due to potential adverse effects. Instead, you should follow up with a doctor for management and treatment of the UTI. 

Are UTIs contagious?

DR. EZZEDINE: I am glad to report that they are not contagious!

Can you have sex with a UTI? 

DR. EZZEDINE: It's advisable not to have sex when you have a UTI as it may worsen your discomfort and bladder pain. In fact, for many women, having sex is a trigger for developing a UTI. 

Are there any effective home remedies for a UTI? 

DR. EZZEDINE: Nothing that I would recommend except to simply stay well hydrated (with plain water). 

How to get rid of a UTI in 24 hours? (Is it even possible)? 

DR. EZZEDINE: No, unfortunately, it is not possible, unless the symptoms are not due to a UTI. With OTC bladder pain medication and good hydration, patients can feel well enough to carry through their normal daily activities, but the infection itself can seldom resolve so quickly without antibiotic treatment. 

Is cranberry juice for a UTI effective? What about cranberry supplements?

DR.EZZEDINE: Cranberry juice and cranberry supplements are not a treatment for UTI. Instead, they are used to help prevent one from happening. An active ingredient in cranberry called proanthocyanidins (PACs) bind to bladder receptors that bacteria use to access the bladder's inside wall. Thus, the PACs prevent the bacteria from causing an infection. PACs cannot, however, remove the bacteria from the bladder once the bacteria have already entered.

Is D-Mannose for a UTI effective?

DR. EZZEDINE: Similarly to cranberry products, D-Mannose may help prevent a bladder infection, but it does not treat one. D-Mannose is a natural sugar that binds to bacteria and prevents them from adhering to the inside bladder wall. This will, theoretically, help prevent infections.

UTI vs yeast infection – how can you tell the difference?

DR. EZZEDINE: A yeast infection usually occurs in the vagina and causes symptoms similar to a UTI like irritation and discomfort. The difference is that a yeast infection will also cause itching and abnormal discharge and won't cause frequency of urination or pain in the bladder. However, many times the difference is not clear cut. A doctor's exam and tests may be necessary to make the diagnosis.

Can recurrent UTIs be a sign of cancer?

DR. EZZEDINE: Recurrent UTIs are not a sign of cancer. However, bladder cancer can cause bladder symptoms similar to a UTI. Whenever a patient experiences UTI symptoms and notices blood in their urine, they should be evaluated by a doctor to make sure it is only due to a UTI and there is no underlying bladder pathology.

Are there any effective ways to prevent a UTI?

DR. EZZEDINE: For women with confirmed recurrent UTIs, an evaluation by a urogynecologist or a urologist is warranted to make sure there are no anatomic predispositions, such as an obstruction, kidney stones, or abnormalities of the urinary system.

Once those are ruled out, focusing on triggers for UTIs—such as sexual activity or use of a certain birth control method, such as spermicides—will be helpful in addition to addressing risk factors, such as lack of estrogen due to either natural or surgical menopause (menopause due to removal of the ovaries).

For those patients, vaginal estrogen replacement is key to restoring vaginal health and preventing bladder infections. Patients may also take cranberry supplements and/or D-mannose (both OTC) to help prevent UTIs.

Is there anything else that you want to make sure readers keep in mind about UTIs?

DR. EZZEDINE: Yes, I think it is good to remember to send a urine sample for testing when having symptoms of a UTI before receiving antibiotics. It will help not only confirm the diagnosis, but also choose the proper antibiotic. Doing so will help patients get an effective treatment and prevent bacteria from developing antibiotic resistance.

Patients should also become familiar with their risk factors and specific UTI triggers. By doing so, patients will be able to better understand UTIs and develop ways to prevent and manage them with the help of their doctors.

Are you dealing with the symptoms of a UTI? We can help.

Make an appointment with one of our urologists or urogynecologists. Your quality of life matters. Let us help.


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