Cramps With UTIs

Urinary tract infections can cause cramps and other bothersome symptoms. Here's why it happens and how to get relief.

Urinary tract infections are extremely common, especially among those with female reproductive organs since their urethra (the tube that releases urine) is shorter and closer to the anus.¹ About 50% to 60% of women will get a urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetime.²

People with UTIs can experience a variety of symptoms, including cramps.¹ In fact, UTIs are the leading cause of acute pelvic pain among women.³

The good news is UTIs are treatable, and symptoms like UTI cramps usually disappear within a few days of treatment.⁴

Woman lies on a bed holding a hot water bottle over her stomach
Thais Varela/Stocksy

UTI Cramps

Once bacteria enter your urethra, they can affect any part of your urinary tract. That includes the urethra itself as well as the kidneys, bladder, and ureters (two thin tubes that move urine from the kidneys to the bladder).⁵'⁶

UTIs most commonly affect the bladder. This type of bladder infection is known as cystitis. It is cystitis that can lead to the symptom of cramping. Similar to when you have to urinate, you might feel a mild pressure in the groin or lower abdomen that doesn't disappear, even after you urinate.¹

Cramping and other UTI symptoms occur when bacteria from the infection stick to the tissues that line the urinary tract and cause inflammation.⁷

Other symptoms of a bladder infection include:¹

  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • A constant urge to urinate, even with an empty bladder
  • Blood in the urine

Especially if left untreated, the bacteria in the bladder can continue to multiply and make their way into the kidneys, resulting in kidney infection (pyelonephritis). If this happens, the pain might be more widespread. Cramping is most noticeable in the lower back or sides of the back where the kidneys are located and can range in pain from sharp to dull. One side of the body or both can be affected.⁸

Other symptoms of a kidney infection include:¹

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea or vomiting

While kidney infections are less common than bladder infections, they are a more serious type of UTI.¹ They can potentially lead to complications like high blood pressure and kidney failure.⁹ However, such complications are rare if the infection is treated in a timely manner.

How to Manage UTI Cramps

A healthcare provider will typically prescribe antibiotics to clear your UTI. But UTI-related cramps can be uncomfortable as you wait for the medication to kick in. Here are a few ways to manage pain in the interim.

Drink Plenty of Water

Taking in more fluid means you'll have to urinate more. That can help your body more quickly rid itself of inflammation-causing bacteria.¹⁰ If you have another medical condition that prevents you from drinking a greater amount of liquid, talk to your healthcare provider.¹¹

When it comes to what to drink, water is best. In fact, a small 2017 study found that women who reduced their intake of potentially bladder-irritating beverages like coffee, alcohol, and carbonated drinks experienced fewer UTI symptoms.¹²

Take Over-the-Counter Medications

Your healthcare provider might recommend medication to help alleviate some of the discomfort and pain as your body fights off the infection. For example, phenazopyridine (AZO) is an oral tablet or capsule that can help with UTI symptoms.¹³

Use a Heating Pad

A heating pad on your abdomen or back—depending on where the discomfort is—may help you manage pain from a UTI.¹¹

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have symptoms of a UTI, especially if you're prone to recurrent UTIs, visit a healthcare provider. You'll likely need to give a urine sample to test for the presence of E. coli—the bacterium that causes most cases of UTI—and determine your need for antibiotics, which can help cure the infection.¹

A typical course of antibiotics lasts a few days and helps relieve symptoms within 24 to 48 hours. Regardless of how you might be feeling a day or two into your treatment, it's important to completely finish your prescription to avoid killing some but not all of the bacteria.¹⁴

Only in more severe cases, such as a kidney infection, might you need to be hospitalized and receive treatment through an intravenous line.¹⁴

It might be possible for some UTIs that stay in the lower portion of the urinary tract to clear on their own, especially if you up your hydration.¹⁵ But bacteria can spread from the bladder to the kidneys so, if left untreated for too long, the infection could worsen and cause complications, potentially life-threatening ones.¹⁶ To avoid that, it's best to seek expert guidance on UTI treatment.

How to Prevent Future UTIs

Any way to prevent the spread of bacteria to the urethra from the surrounding area can help lessen the chance of developing a UTI. This can include wiping from front to back and urinating after sex

Staying hydrated can also help in UTI prevention. In fact, research has shown that women who drink more water have reported fewer UTIs.¹⁰

Other prevention methods include:¹⁶

  • Avoiding douching or using feminine hygiene sprays
  • Taking showers rather than baths
  • Wearing cotton underwear
  • Avoiding tight-fitting pants
  • Changing out of wet bathing suits and workout clothes quickly
  • Urinating every three to four hours

Summary

Cramps are just one symptom that can be an indicator of a UTI. Having to frequently go to the bathroom or experiencing burning while urinating are other common UTI symptoms. The symptoms are a sign that bacteria have entered your urethra and are affecting some part of your urinary tract—most often the bladder.

UTI cramps and other symptoms don't have to be tolerated for long, though. Treatment is available and can help symptoms within a day or two. And if the UTI is treated in a timely manner, there is often no long-lasting negative side effect.

To prevent UTIs and their symptoms, you can take steps to prevent the infections in the first place, including wiping from front to back and urinating when you need to go.

Sources:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Urinary Tract Infections.
  2. Medina M, Castillo-Pino E. An introduction to the epidemiology and burden of urinary tract infections. Ther Adv Urol. 2019; 11: 1756287219832172. doi: 10.1177/1756287219832172.
  3. Rosen J, Klumpp D. Mechanisms of pain from urinary tract infection. Int J Urol. 2014; 21(01): 26–32. doi:10.1111/iju.12309.
  4. National Library of Medicine. How effective are antibiotics in treating acute cystitis?.
  5. MedlinePlus. Urinary Tract Infections.
  6. MedlinePlus. Ureteral Disorders.
  7. Khandelwal P, Abraham, S, Apodaca, G. Cell biology and physiology of the uroepithelium. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2009;297(6):F1477–F1501. doi: 10.1152/ajprenal.00327.2009.
  8. Belyayeva M, Jeong J. Acute pyelonephritis. 2022; StatPearls. PMID:30137822.
  9. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition & Facts of Kidney Infection (Pyelonephritis).
  10. Hooton T, Vecchio M, et al. Effect of Increased Daily Water Intake in Premenopausal Women With Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(11):1509-1515. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.4204.
  11. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Treatment for Bladder Infection in Adults.
  12. Miller J, Garcia C, Hortsch S, Guo Y, Schimpf M. Does Instruction to Eliminate Coffee, Tea, Alcohol, Carbonated, and Artificially Sweetened Beverages Improve Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms?. J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 2016;43(1): 69–79. doi:10.1097/WON.0000000000000197.
  13. MedlinePlus. Phenazopyridine.
  14. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs).
  15. Bono MJ, Leslie SW, Reygaert WC. Urinary Tract Infection. 2022; StatPearls. PMID:29261874.
  16. Office on Women's Health. Urinary Tract Infections.
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