Signs and Symptoms of UTIs: What to Watch Out For | Uqora
7 min read | March 07, 24

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

Medically Reviewed by: Heather Ott

Written by: Sareena Rama

Article summary

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection that affects any part of the urinary system, which includes the bladder, urethra, ureters, and kidneys(1). Common UTI symptoms include frequent urination, painful urination, blood in the urine, and more. If a UTI progresses to your kidney, you may also develop symptoms such as a high fever, chills, and nausea(2).

signs and symptoms of UTI

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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a prevalent health concern that can affect anyone. While UTIs are more common in females due to female anatomy, they can also occur in males, often stemming from more complex causes. Due to this disparity, females and males can at times benefit from different UTI prevention strategies (3)

Despite these differences, the signs and symptoms of UTIs in females and males are largely the same, ranging from mild irritations to more severe complications. Typically caused by an invasion of gastrointestinal bacteria such as Escherichia coli in the urinary tract, UTIs can even make their way to your kidneys, if left untreated (2).

Overall, it’s important to remember that getting a UTI doesn’t mean you did something wrong. Even if you feel like you’re doing everything right, you can still be more prone to UTIs than others

In this guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at signs and symptoms of UTIs in males and females, so you can get the help you need as soon as possible. We’ll also explore the different causes of UTIs in males and females, other urinary health issues that can be mistaken for a UTI, and more.

First Signs of a UTI

A UTI can start subtly, with symptoms that might be easily dismissed or confused with other minor health issues. However, identifying and treating a UTI early can prevent the infection from spreading and becoming more severe (4)

The most common early signs of a UTI include the following (2)

  • Frequent urination: An increased urge to urinate, even if only a few drops come out each time, is often one of the first signs of a UTI. 
  • Burning sensation and pain when urinating: A burning or stinging feeling during urination can be very uncomfortable and is one of the most common signs of a UTI. 
  • Urgency: A persistent and intense need to urinate, often feeling like you can't hold it in. 
  • Blood in the urine: You might notice pink, red, or brown hues in your urine, indicating the presence of blood. 
  • Cloudy or strong-smelling urine: The appearance and smell of your urine might change, becoming cloudy, dark, or unusually strong-smelling. 
  • Pelvic pain: In females, pain or pressure in the area around the bladder can be an early sign of a UTI. 
  • Low-grade fever: Some people might experience a mild fever when a UTI begins as your body fights off the infection.

Many of these signs of UTIs overlap for both males and females, but certain signs are more typically observed in females and vice versa. 

Signs of UTIs for Females

Up to 40% of females in the United States will develop a UTI at some point in their lives (5).

Females are more predisposed to UTI, primarily due to the shorter distance between their urethra and anus.

Because of this difference in their anatomy, GI bacteria like E. coli have much less to travel  in order to infect the urinary tract (2).

40% of females in the US will develop a UTI at some point in their lives

Unfortunately, UTI recurrences are also more common in females, with nearly half getting a second infection within the year (5).

Common signs of UTIs in females include (2,6)

  • Frequent urination
  • Urgency
  • Pain during urination
  • Cloudy, dark, or bloody urine
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pressure in the lower abdomen
  • Flank pain
  • Sex-related discomfort

Signs of UTIs for Males

UTIs affect around 20% of the male population, with males aged 50 and above more likely to be infected (7,8). While UTIs in females affect the bladder, urethra, ureters, and kidneys, UTIs in males can also affect the prostate (8)

Additionally, male UTIs are often more complex and can indicate an underlying issue, such as (3,7):

  • Kidney stones
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Diabetes
  • Low immunity
  • Abnormal narrowing of the urethra
  • Sexually transmitted disease

Overall, the common signs of UTIs in males include (2,8):

  • Frequent urination
  • Urgency
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Cloudy, dark, or bloody urine
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Flank pain

Causes of UTIs

The main causes of UTIs in males and females are similar, although some factors might be more prevalent in one group than the other. 

UTIs develop when bacteria is introduced to the urethra; this bacteria travels up the urinary tract and results in infection. 

The majority of UTIs are caused by E. coli, a type of bacteria that normally resides in the gastrointestinal tract and can enter the urethra, especially during activities like sexual intercourse or improper wiping after bowel movements(2).

Sexual and urinary health are interconnected. Sexual intercourse can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract, making it a common cause of UTIs in both genders. However, females are more prone to UTIs after sex because the female urethra is shorter and closer to the anus, allowing bacteria to migrate to the urethra more easily (2)

Holding your urine can also cause UTIs in females. Stagnant urine in the bladder can create an environment where bacteria thrive, leading to infection (9).

Other common causes of UTIs include (2,3, 10)

  • Catheter use: Urinary catheters in medical settings can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract, increasing the risk of infection. 
  • Kidney stones: Kidney stones can obstruct urine flow, allowing bacteria to accumulate and potentially lead to UTIs. 
  • Enlarged prostate: In males, an enlarged prostate can constrict the urethra, potentially inhibiting proper bladder emptying and cause an increased risk of UTIs. 
  • Hormones: Some females experience UTIs more frequently during menopause and pregnancy due to lower estrogen levels. 
  • Health issues: Individuals with diabetes are at an increased risk of UTIs due to a weakened immune system, making it more challenging to fight off infections. Additionally, other individuals with weakened immune systems due to conditions like HIV/AIDS, cancer, or certain medications have a higher risk of developing UTIs. 

Urinary Health Issues That Can Be Mistaken for a UTI

Urinary symptoms can often be misleading. While UTIs are a common cause of discomfort, several other conditions can mimic the symptoms of a UTI. These include:

Urinary health issue sometimes mistaken for UTIs

  • Interstitial Cystitis (IC): IC is a chronic condition that can cause symptoms like a persistent urge to urinate, bladder pain, and discomfort similar to a UTI (11)
  • Kidney stones: These are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that form inside the kidneys. They can cause intense pain and may result in blood in the urine. They can also lead to UTIs (12)
  • Vaginal infections: An improper vaginal pH balance in women can contribute to conditions like yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis (BV) that lead to urinary symptoms, including burning during urination (13)
  • Overactive bladder (OAB): This condition is characterized by the frequent, sudden need to urinate, even if the bladder isn't full. Symptoms can include frequent urination at night, urgency, and incontinence (14)

If you experience any symptoms of UTI, you should get evaluated by a healthcare professional to ensure you receive the proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 

Signs of UTIs: Frequently Asked Questions

What can trigger a UTI?

Several factors can trigger a UTI, making some people more susceptible than others. Common triggers include the following: 

  • Sexual activity
  • Diaphragms or spermicides
  • Menopause and pregnancy
  • Enlarged prostate in males
  • Catheter use
  • Urinary tract conditions

How do you get rid of a UTI fast?

If you experience any signs of UTIs, the first step is to consult a doctor as soon as possible. If left untreated, UTIs can progress into the upper part of the urinary tract, resulting in kidney infections.

A healthcare professional will typically prescribe antibiotics to combat the infection causing the UTI. It's crucial to complete the full course of antibiotics even if symptoms subside to ensure all the bacteria are eliminated to prevent recurrence(15).

During treatment, you should also stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can help flush out the bacteria from your system while diluting the urine to reduce the burning sensation you may feel (2)

If you're experiencing pain or discomfort in the pelvis, you can use a heating pad like you would to relieve menstrual cramps.

How do I tell the difference between a UTI and a bladder infection?

UTIs and bladder infections are terms commonly used interchangeably, but they're not technically the same condition. A bladder infection is just one type of UTI (16).

To differentiate between them, it's crucial to understand the anatomy of the urinary tract, which consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. 

A UTI is a broad term that refers to an infection anywhere within the system. Based on the location of the infection, UTIs are classified into three categories: bladder infection (cystitis), urethritis — an infection of the urethra, and kidney infection (pyelonephritis) (17).

A bladder infection is a type of UTI with symptoms like a frequent urge to urinate, painful urination, cloudy or bloody urine, lower abdominal pain, and sometimes a low-grade fever (14).

Only a doctor can diagnose your UTI as a specific type, allowing you to get the appropriate treatment. 

How do I tell the difference between a UTI and a yeast infection?

UTIs and yeast infections are common conditions that affect females, but they're caused by different organisms and have distinct symptoms. While they can have overlapping signs, a UTI is a bacterial infection, while a yeast infection is a fungal infection. 

Both can cause a burning sensation while urinating and overall pain. However, unlike UTI, a yeast infection typically causes an itching sensation in the vagina and vulva, along with redness and swelling. You also might notice a change in vaginal discharge with a yeast infection, which can be watery or thick and white (18)

UTIs and yeast infections require different treatments. UTIs are treated with antibiotics, while yeast infections are typically treated with antifungal medications. If you're experiencing symptoms of either condition, consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment. 

Final Thoughts

UTI symptoms are no walk in the park, but with the appropriate treatment, you can alleviate symptoms and feel your best. To properly diagnose a UTI, it’s important to seek professional medical care. The signs and symptoms of UTIs can be similar to other conditions, so check in with your doctor to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Note: references to "female", “women”, “male”, and “men” in this article refer to sex assigned at birth, not gender.


Sareena Rama manages Uqora’s Digital Content and is responsible for Uqora's social media, newsletters, and contributing articles to the UTI Learning Center.


Heather Ott is Uqora's Senior Health and Science Educator. She supports the team by writing Learning Center articles and reviewing all scientific communications.


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