There are common questions that we can answer about all health topics, such as "What is it?" and "How many people are affected." Answers to these questions are found under Condition Information. Each health topic frequently has specific questions that pertain only to that topic. We have answered those in this section.
Are UTIs serious?
Most UTIs are not serious. Kidney infections are an important exception because they may lead to serious problems.1 Chronic kidney infections—those that keep coming back or last a long time—can cause permanent damage, including kidney scars, poor kidney function, high blood pressure, and kidney failure.
Acute kidney infections develop suddenly and can require hospitalization. This is especially true if the bacteria enter the bloodstream and cause a life-threatening condition called septicemia (pronounced sep-tuh-SEE-mee-uh) or sepsis, a whole-body infection that can also be serious.
Pregnant women are more likely to get UTIs than other women and, when the infection does occur, it is more likely to travel to the kidneys. Pregnant women should see a health care provider as soon as they notice UTI symptoms.
Do UTIs have long-term effects?
If left untreated, a kidney infection can have serious and permanent or long-term effects, including:
- Kidney scars
- Poor kidney function
- High blood pressure
- Kidney failure
Pregnant women and young children are especially vulnerable to kidney infections.1
Are there ways to prevent a UTI?
It is not always possible to prevent UTIs, but several lifestyle habits can reduce the likelihood that a person will contract a UTI
- Drink plenty of fluids every day, especially water, to help flush bacteria from your system.
- Do not hold in your urine for a long time.
- Urinate after sexual intercourse to flush bacteria that might have entered the urethra during sex.
- Use cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes to circulate air and keep the area around the urethra dry. Nylon underwear and tight-fitting pants can trap moisture that promotes bacterial growth.
In addition, women should:
- Wipe with toilet tissue from front to back to prevent bacteria from entering the vagina or urethra.
- Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays and soaps in the vaginal area, and avoid douches.
- Talk to your health care providers about changing birth control methods if you get recurring UTIs while using spermicides, diaphragms, or unlubricated condoms.
Does drinking cranberry juice prevent UTIs?
Although some laboratory tests and smaller studies once suggested that cranberry juice might prevent UTIs, the latest research indicates that drinking cranberry juice does not prevent UTIs.2
Is UI just part of growing older?
No, UI is not a normal part of growing older, although it is more common among older people. Talk to a health care provider about the following age-related body changes that may cause or aggravate UI:3
- Weak or bladder muscles or muscles that are in spasm
- Reduced bladder capacity, weaker urine stream, and the urge to urinate more often
- Thinning and drying of the skin in the vagina or urethra after menopause (women)
- Blockage from an enlarged prostate or the results of prostate surgery (men)
What are Kegel exercises and whom do they benefit?
Kegel exercises strengthen the muscles that support the pelvic floor and tighten the urethra, which can help reduce UI in women. They can benefit women with stress or urge incontinence. Like any type of exercise, kegel exercises only work as long as a woman does them. Once a woman stops the exercises, the muscles will become weak again and UI might return to its previous level.
For kegel exercise tips and more information, visit http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/bcw_ez/insertC.aspx.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Clearinghouse. (2011). Urinary tract infections in adults. Retrieved May 15, 2012, from http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/utiadult/index.aspx [top]
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Clearinghouse. (2011). Urologic diseases research update. Retrieved May 22, 2012, from http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/about/ResearchUpdates/UrologicSum11/3.aspx [top]
- FamilyDoctor.org. (2010). Urinary incontinence. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/urinary-incontinence.html [top]