5 UTI Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore, According to Doctors

A frequent, urgent need to pee is just one sign of this common bacterial infection.

Here's a not-so-fun fact: Up to 60% of women will have a urinary tract infection (UTI) at least once in their lives, reports the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The infection happens when bacteria grow out of control somewhere along the urinary tract (usually the bladder) and it can be a real pain.

It's easy to dismiss UTI symptoms as something else—at first. That constant urge to pee might just be from having a couple of iced coffees and a mimosa at brunch, right? But before long, peeing becomes a fiery nightmare. Could that burning sensation be a UTI?

Let's take a closer look at the most common UTI symptoms and what causes them.

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UTI symptoms

UTI symptoms can be a bit different depending on where the infection is. Most UTIs involve the lower tract, such as the urethra and bladder, according to the Mayo Clinic. Can a mild case go away on its own? It's possible, says Tufts Medical Center, but more than likely you'll need to see your doctor for some antibiotics to clear things up.

In some cases, the infection can spread into the upper urinary tract or kidneys, says NIDDK. That can cause a more severe situation that requires medical attention—stat! We'll get into the symptoms of that in a moment, but in the meantime, here are the most common UTI symptoms for lower tract infections:

Persistent and urgent need to pee

Feeling like you've got to go pee all the time (even right after you use the bathroom) is a classic UTI symptom. You might also feel like you can't wait another moment to get back on the toilet—and when you try to go, not much comes out. You can blame bacteria for this and just about all other UTI symptoms. The germs invade the bladder tissue and cause inflammation. That, in turn, affects two types of nerve fibers in the bladder, says Jennifer A. Linehan, MD, a urologist and associate professor of urologic oncology at the Saint John's Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

"What's happening is the bladder is contracting on and off. The pain fibers set off pressure fibers and tell your brain that you have to go, but you don't really have go—it's just that the tissue is inflamed, irritated, and infected," she tells Health. "The bladder knows there's something in it and it's trying to get it out."

Burning sensation when you pee

Does it feel like you're shooting fire out of your urethra? That burning during urination is a telltale UTI symptom. And if you're wondering where it comes from, you can once again blame bacteria causing inflammation that interferes with nerve fibers in your urinary tract.

"The infection and inflammation set off all the fibers, instead of just the pressure fibers, and that creates the sensation of burning in the urethra," says Dr. Linehan, adding that bladder spasms may also play a role. "Imagine doing bicep curls all day. That would cause the bicep to hurt. The bladder is in constant spasming, and that creates the burning," she says.

Cloudy, smell pee

Pee that appears cloudy or milky or smells downright foul can be another sign of infection. This UTI symptom can happen for a couple of reasons. One explanation is that the bacteria that's causing the infection releases proteins and enzymes into your urine. Another possibility is that you're seeing the white blood cells your body sent to fight the infection mixing with your urine, hence that milky, almost opaque appearance.

Dr. Linehan notes that funky pee (either in appearance or in odor) isn't always an indication that you have a UTI, but it's worth getting it checked out by your doc. "Just because you ate asparagus for dinner and your urine smells funny doesn't mean you have an infection," she says.

Pinkish or reddish pee

Your pee can start to look pink or red when you've got a UTI. It's a sign that there's blood in your urine, says Patricia A. Wallace, MD, a gynecologist and urologist at Providence Mission Hospital in Southern California. "Blood in the urine comes from certain bacteria that stick to the wall of the bladder and cause discrete micro-trauma," Dr. Wallace tells Health.

Bloody urine isn't a UTI symptom that everyone gets, but it tends to be more common in younger women, according to the Office on Women's Health (OWH). If it happens to you, it's a good idea to see your doc. "Blood in your urine is never normal. Especially if you can see it with your naked eye in the toilet or on tissue, don't panic, but definitely seek care," explains Dr. Wallace.

Pressure or pain in your pelvis

When bacteria invade your bladder, your body mounts a fight to evict the unwanted guests. But that turns your bladder into a battleground and causes another common UTI symptom: pressure or pain in your pelvis.

"Your immune system comes to help the infection, but in doing so, it releases all these chemicals that cause inflammation and irritate the nerves. Any inflammation in those nerves makes the whole pelvis hurt sometimes," explains Dr. Linehan. The pain and pressure should subside once the infection starts clearing up and your immune system chills out. In the meantime, a heating pad or hot water bottle can help you feel a bit better.

Upper UTI symptoms

You might start to notice new UTI symptoms if the infection has spread to your kidneys (called pyelonephritis). According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, symptoms of a UTI that has moved to your upper urinary tract include:

  • Fever.
  • Chills.
  • Pain on your side, back, or groin.
  • Vomiting.
  • Nausea.

And keep on mind, these symptoms are in addition to the other UTI symptoms, like burning pee, listed above.

A kidney infection is nothing to mess around with. It could cause permanent organ damage or sepsis, which can be deadly, says NIDDK. If you notice symptoms of an upper urinary tract infection, seek care right away.

UTI symptoms in men vs. women

By and large, women bear the brunt of UTIs. Some research estimates that women are a whopping 30 times more likely than the guys to get a UTI, due to having much shorter urethras, reports the OWH. But when men get them, they tend to have almost the same UTI symptoms as women. Per the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include:

  • Frequent and urgent need to urinate.
  • Cloudy pee.
  • Foul-smelling pee.
  • Bloody pee.

Man also get similar UTI symptoms for upper tract infections, like fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and pain on their sides and back, notes the Mayo Clinic.

The main difference in UTI symptoms between men and women is where the pressure and pain are located, says Dr. Linehan. For women, it tends to be in the pelvis or lower abdomen, whereas men may feel it in their rectum, scrotum, or testicles. And some people, regardless of gender, never experience pain or pressure from a UTI.

Either way, it's worth noting that UTI symptoms can only tell you if you might have an infection. The only way to know for sure is to get it checked out by a doctor. They can send your urine sample to a lab to check for bacteria and ultimately help you get the right treatment to knock out the infection before it becomes something worse.

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