UTIs: Just Because They’re Common Doesn’t Mean They’re Not Serious

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common. In fact, some experts say that half of all women will get at least one UTI at some point in a lifetime. But just because UTIs are common doesn’t mean UTIs aren’t serious. Letting a UTI go untreated can cause severe health risks and complications.

How do you know if you have a UTI?

A UTI is an infection of the urinary system. The urinary system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Most UTIs will involve the bladder and urethra. But when left untreated, UTIs can spread to the kidneys and cause serious damage.

UTIs can cause uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • A frequent need to urinate
  • Cloudy urine
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Pelvic pain (in women)

Did you know? Men can get UTIs too

While women are at a higher risk of getting UTIs than men, UTIs can affect both sexes. Women have some risk factors that don’t affect men. Certain types of birth control, such as diaphragms and spermicide, put women at higher risk of getting UTIs. Additionally, women have shorter urethras than men, which means that bacteria don’t have to travel as far to get to the bladder.

Some factors will put both men and women at risk of UTIs. An impaired immune system, using catheters, or kidney stones can all lead to UTIs.

What if a UTI goes untreated?

When UTIs are left untreated, there can be severe consequences and complications. If a UTI spreads to the kidneys, the infection can cause permanent kidney damage. In pregnant women, untreated UTIs can increase risk for premature birth or birth complications. Leaving a UTI untreated can even be life-threatening. Untreated UTIs can cause sepsis, a complication of infections that causes damage to multiple organs.

Will UTIs go away without a doctor’s visit?

Some mild UTIs may go away on their own. At the first sign of a UTI, people should increase water intake and decrease consumption of caffeine and alcohol. Urinating often, using over-the-counter pain relievers, and applying a heating pad can all relieve UTI symptoms. However, the use of antibiotics will clear up a UTI more quickly and prevent UTI complications. If symptoms persist for more than a day or two, most healthcare providers recommend scheduling a visit with a doctor. Letting a UTI go untreated is not worth the risk.