Do I have a UTI? How do I know?

Dear Alice,

For the second time this year, I have had a bout of what I think might be a u-tract infection, but I'm not sure if that's what it is. For about a week now I have had the urgency to urinate hundreds of times throughout the day, and could easily urinate every five minutes without problem. The bothersome thing is that, although I'm not incontinent, it is dripping a little and is therefore very unpleasant and awkward. I'm not experiencing any burning sensation, and I know that I'm not pregnant. Any advice? (I started drinking cranberry juice yesterday, thinking that might help I'm not exactly sure why).

Slightly embarrassed.

Dear Slightly embarrassed,  

Frequent urination, or an increased urge to urinate throughout the day, must be irritating! Although it may feel awkward and unpleasant, you’re certainly not the first person to experience this condition. The frequent urination you describe could be caused by a variety of factors, not just a urinary tract infection (UTI). Though the research is limited, there are some folks who’ve found relief with cranberry juice (more on this in a bit). In any case, talking with your health care provider to determine the cause will likely provide answers for how to get some long-term relief.  

The frequent urination you describe could be due to a number of different issues including:  

  • Drugs or beverages that increase urine production such as caffeine or alcohol  
  • Infection, disease, injury, or irritation of the bladder  
  • Conditions that increase urine production such as pregnancy or bladder stones  
  • Changes in muscles, nerves, or other tissues affecting bladder function  
  • Certain cancer treatments 

List adapted from Mayo Clinic.  

You mention the possibility of a UTI, which is a common infection usually caused by bacteria entering any part of your urinary system (the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra) and is treated with antibiotics. The symptoms often vary based on the individual, but common symptoms include:  

  • Feeling like you have to urinate all of the time  
  • Pain or burning when you do urinate  
  • Urinating frequently in small amounts 
  • Blood in your urine  
  • Pelvic pain 
  • Cloudy or strong-smelling urine 

List adapted from Mayo Clinic.  

There are a number of factors that increase the risk of UTIs. Conditions such as diabetes, bowel incontinence, urinary catheters, kidney stones, pregnancy, or urinary tract surgery have been shown to increase the likelihood of developing a UTI. Individuals who are assigned female at birth are also at an increased risk because they have a shorter urethra, which allows the bacteria to more quickly reach the bladder. Those who use diaphragms or spermicide as birth control or are experiencing menopause may find that they're at increased risk as well.  

Slightly embarrassed, you’re not alone in reaching for the cranberry juice! Whether in juice, powder, or pill form, some people find relief using cranberry juice as a treatment for UTIs. To avoid a UTI in the first place, some strategies include drinking lots of water, wiping from front to back when you go to the bathroom, urinating after sex, avoiding irritating feminine products such as deodorant sprays or douches, and switching from diaphragms, spermicide, or unlubricated condoms to other forms of birth control (you can learn more about various birth control methods in the Contraception category of the Go Ask Alice! Sexual and Reproductive Health archives).  

In addition, it might be a good idea to talk with a health care provider to rule out any other infections that cause symptoms similar to a UTI including:  

  • Chlamydia, which is a bacterial infection of the genital tract that may cause painful urination and lower abdominal pain.  
  • Gonorrhea, which may cause painful or frequent urination and some discharge.  

Even if you’re not in pain and it's just an inconvenience at this point, you may want to consider getting tested sooner rather than later. Untreated infections can worsen and lead to serious illness. Your provider will be able to help you figure out ways to prevent these problems in the future. Although you may be embarrassed now, getting help is a critical step to finding relief. Good luck! 

Last updated Sep 03, 2021
Originally published Dec 23, 1994

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