Once a urinary tract infection (UTI) has developed, you'll likely experience all sorts of painful symptoms, including burning during urination, pain in your lower abdomen, and even fever and chills. But if you're on the lookout for early warning signs of a UTI, then you can take steps to clear up the infection. And hopefully not feel too bad.
"Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria — for example, commonly E. coli — [make their] way into the urethra (urinary system)," Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, a family and emergency medical doctor, tells Bustle. Sometimes it happens when bacteria from the back passage, or anal area, make their up to the front, she says. This can happen if you wear fitted clothing, wipe from back to front after using the bathroom, or forget to pee after sex.
UTIs are incredibly common, but also incredibly painful and annoying. So the moment you feel like something's off, consider that your cue to take action. "Some things you can do to help relieve the symptoms are using a heating pad over your lower abdomen, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding drinks that can irritate your bladder, such as coffee, alcohol, or soft drinks that contain citrus juice or caffeine," Ashley Wood, RN, BSN, a registered nurse and contributor to Demystifying Your Health, LLC, tells Bustle. You can also try over-the-counter UTI drugs, which may help with the pain.
The only real way to clear up an infection, though, is with antibiotics, Wood says. So if you don't feel better in a day or two, and especially if the symptoms listed below are getting worse, let a doctor know.
1. Your Urine Is Cloudy
If your pee is usually clear or light yellow, consider it a red flag if it comes out darker or more opaque than usual. Because when it comes to UTIs, cloudy urine can be one of the first signs.
"For most healthy people who properly hydrate, urine should be nearly odorless or in some cases should only have a slight scent of ammonia to it," S. Adam Ramin, MD, urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles, tells Bustle.
So take note of the scent, as well. "If you suddenly notice a foul or otherwise unusual smell to it, this may indicate a urinary tract infection or urinary stones, especially if the smell is also accompanied by a cloudy appearance," Ramin says. "These signs warrant a trip to your doctor for evaluation. If you can catch it early, there’s a better chance of treating it before more unpleasant symptoms arise."
2. You Need To Pee More Often
Another early symptom of an impending UTI is feeling like you need to urinate more frequently than usual, reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Janelle Luk, who is the medical director and co-founder of Generation Next Fertility, tells Bustle.
And this might also be accompanied by the aforementioned cloudy urine. As Luk says, "When bacteria is exposed to one’s urinary system, inflammatory signals will cause the body to react to the intruding bacteria and may cause such responses in one’s body."
3. The Urge To Pee Is Strong
Keep in mind that the symptoms of your UTI will depend on the severity of the infection, Wood says. That said, another early sign to watch out for is a strong, persistent urge to urinate. As Wood says, "This is the result of the area of your bladder and urethra (the tube that connects your bladder to outside your body) becoming inflamed due to the infection. The inflammation puts pressure on the receptors that signal when you need to urinate," making it feel like you need to go.
4. It Feels Like You Can't Empty Your Bladder
Again due to the inflammation, you might also notice that it feels like you have to pee, even if you just went. "The inflammation also narrows the opening that urine can pass through," Wood says, "which means you usually only urinate small amounts each time."
This frustrating symptom can result in frequent trips to the bathroom where only a few dribbles come out. Whatever the case may be, painful or uncomfortable changes to your usual bathroom routine may warrant a trip to the doctor. They can test you for the infection and prescribe an antibiotic, if necessary.
5. You Have A Burning Sensation
Another early symptom is a burning sensation when urinating, Wood says, "because the inflamed tissue is incredibly sensitive and causes the burning feeling when urine passes through it." You might even feel a burning or tingling before peeing, which can send you dashing off to the bathroom.
If you notice anything different, make drinking more water a top priority. You can also drink cranberry juice, which some claim prevents bacteria from sticking to the urethra. This hasn't been proven, Wood says, but shouldn't hurt if it's something you'd like to try. Just ask your doctor first.
6. Your Lower Abdomen Hurts
Lower abdominal pain can also be an early warning sign. "This is caused by inflammation of the bladder fighting the infection," Anika Ackerman, MD, a urologist with Garden Stage Urology, tells Bustle. You might notice a dull ache or cramps.
Again, the best thing to do is drink plenty of water, which "can can help flush the urinary tract of bacteria," Ackerman says. "Over the counter pain medications [..] can be taken to soothe pain."
But what you really want to do is ensure the infection doesn't extend from the bladder to the kidneys, which can happen if you ignore symptoms. At that point, you'll have a serious infection and may experience things like fever and chills, Ackerman says, and flank pain. So if any of that sounds familiar, let a doctor know.
7. You Have Less Control Over Your Bladder
Rather annoyingly, "you may also find you have less control over your bladder during a UTI episode," Ramin says. And this can result in feeling like you're going to pee before reaching the bathroom.
This can also happen thanks to the pain caused by inflammation, which can make the urge to pee super strong. At that point, though, your infection might be further along. While you may be able to flush out bacteria in the earliest stages of the infection by drinking lots of water, it's always better and visit your doctor.
They can do a test to see if you do, in fact, have a urinary tract infection, and let you know the best course of treatment to properly clear it up.