Many people have experienced a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in life. This common condition impacts the bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra. For most people, the problem is caused by bacteria or fungus. In rare cases, a viral infection can be the culprit. Most UTIs can be treated at home, but some require emergency room (ER) care.
Lower UTIs present in the bladder and urethra. Upper UTIs are usually more severe as the infection has spread to the ureters and kidneys. Symptoms can vary depending on if a person has an upper or lower UTI. In lower infections, the most common signs are painful burning during urination, pungent smell, increased urination or need to void, pelvic pain in women, and rectal pain in men. Cloudy, tea-colored, or bloody urine can also occur. In upper infections, people may experience pain or tenderness in the back, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting. This is usually a sign the infection has spread to the kidneys and into the blood.
When home care makes sense
Most people with a UTI can recuperate at home after a doctor’s visit to get medication. Antibiotics, antifungals, or antiviral medications will be prescribed depending on which pathogen caused the infection. If caught early, most people will take medication for about a week, and the infection will resolve. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication can also help with minor pelvic pain as the prescription kicks in. An at-home remedy with anecdotal evidence that can aid in recovery and prevent future infections is cranberries in juice or supplement form. Cranberries have a chemical that prevents bacteria from adhering to the bladder lining, reducing the potential for UTIs to recur.
Time to head to the ER
Lower UTIs can usually be managed at home after a doctor’s visit. However, urgent medical care is needed for anyone exhibiting upper UTI symptoms. More severe cases may indicate that the pathogen has entered the bloodstream. If left untreated, the condition can cause sepsis and shock as well as be life-threatening. When a UTI is treated in the ER, an intravenous (IV) course of medication is given to speed up recovery and prevent further complications.
Know when to act
In most cases, a UTI will require a trip to the doctor’s office for medication to treat the infection. Individuals with UTI symptoms such as urgency or pain with urination should schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider as soon as possible. If more severe symptoms are present, an upper UTI is possible, and immediate medical attention is needed.