Basic information for topics, such as “What is it?” is available in the About Urinary Tract Health section. Answers to other frequently asked questions (FAQs) specific to urinary tract health are in this section.
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 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 healthcare provider as soon as they notice UTI symptoms.
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
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 healthcare providers about changing birth control methods if you get recurring UTIs while using spermicides, diaphragms, or unlubricated condoms.
There is mixed evidence about cranberry juice for preventing UTIs. Studies have also shown that cranberry juice is not an effective treatment for an existing UTI. Learn more about research on cranberry juice and UTIs at https://nccih.nih.gov/health/cranberry2
No, UI is not a normal part of growing older, although it is more common among older people. Talk to a healthcare 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)
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 https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-control-problems.
- 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 https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-infection-uti-in-adults
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2016) Cranberry. Retrieved on May 4, 2018, from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/cranberry
- FamilyDoctor.org. (2010). Urinary incontinence. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from https://familydoctor.org/condition/urinary-incontinence/