1. Common Health Problems

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

“I threw up twice during class and 3 times on the bus on the way back to my dorm. I thought I had the stomach flu. Then I felt really out of it. Luckily, my roommate was in pre-med. She got me to the University Medical Center’s Emergency Room. I was dehydrated and I had a kidney infection.”

– Diana K., University of Michigan

Urinary tract infections are ones that occur in any organs that make up the urinary tract. The kidneys filter waste products from the blood and make urine. Ureters connect the kidney to the bladder, which holds urine until it is passed through the urethra.

Signs & Symptoms

Bladder Infection

  1. Constant urge to urinate; urinating more often than usual; feeling like your bladder is still full after you pass urine.

  2. Burning or pain when you pass urine.

  3. Cloudy urine or blood in the urine.

Acute Kidney Infection

  1. Pain in one or both sides of your mid-back.

  2. Fever and shaking chills.

  3. Nausea and vomiting.

{Note: Bladder infections are much more common than kidney infections. You can also have a UTI without symptoms.}

Causes & Risk Factors

UTIs result when bacteria infect any part of the urinary tract. The bladder is the most common site. The risk for getting a UTI is greater for:

  1. Sexually active females.

  2. Females who use a diaphragm.

  3. Males and females who have had UTIs in the past.

  4. Anyone with a condition that doesn’t allow urine to pass freely. Kidney stones is an example.


  1. Drink plenty of water and other fluids everyday. Cranberry juice may help prevent bladder infections.

  2. Empty your bladder as soon as you feel the urge.

  3. Drink a glass of water before you have sex. Go to the bathroom as soon as you can after sex.

  4. If you’re prone to UTIs, don’t take bubble baths.

  5. If you’re female, wipe from front to back after using the toilet. This helps keep bacteria away from the opening of the urethra.

  6. If you use a diaphragm, clean it after each use. Have your health care provider check it periodically to make sure it still fits right.


An antibiotic to treat the specific infection and pain relievers (if necessary) are the usual treatment. If you get UTIs often, your health care provider may order certain medical tests to diagnose the cause.


  1. Drink at least 8 glasses of water and other liquids a day.

  2. Drink juice made from unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate. Take cranberry tablets. (Look for these at health food stores.)

  3. Avoid alcohol, spicy foods, and caffeine. These can irritate the bladder.

  4. Get plenty of rest.

  5. Take an over-the-counter medicine for pain. (see “Pain Relievers” in “Over-the-Counter Medication Safety”) or take the OTC medicine Uristat, which relieves pain and spasms that come with a bladder infection. {Note: Uristat helps with symptoms, but doesn’t get rid of the infection. You should see your health care provider to diagnose and treat the problem.}

  6. Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge. Empty your bladder completely.

Organs in the Urinary Tract.

Questions to Ask

Do you have all of these symptoms of a kidney infection?

  1. Fever and shaking chills.

  2. Pain in one or both sides of your mid-back.

  3. Nausea and vomiting.

Do you have these symptoms of a bladder infection?

  1. Burning or stinging feeling when you pass urine.

  2. Passing urine a lot more often than usual, often in small amounts.

  3. Bloody or cloudy urine.

  4. Pain in your abdomen or over your bladder.

  5. Fever (sometimes).

Have you had more than 3 bladder infections within 6 months or more than 4 bladder infections in the same year?

After taking prescribed medicine for a UTI, do symptoms not clear up over 3 days? Or, did the prescribed medicine give you side effects, such as a skin rash or a vaginal yeast infection?