Urinary tract infection (UTI) symptoms are, unfortunately, most often the ones that land in IYKYK territory, no matter how hard you try to brush them off. Whether you find yourself sitting on the toilet and feeling like the pee just wants to keep coming or you can’t quite place that funky smell, a UTI usually likes to make itself known.
A UTI is a condition in which bacteria get up inside your urethra, urinary tract, or kidneys, and cause an infection. One in five women will get a UTI in her lifetime, according to the National Kidney Foundation, and women get UTIs up to 30 times more often than men do, notes the U.S. Office on Women’s Health. The worst part? Once you get a UTI, it makes you more prone to have them again in the future, with 20 to 30 percent of women having repeat infections, explains the Foundation.
Don’t panic, though, a UTI is one of the most common infections women get, and it’s totally treatable. While most UTIs can be cleared up with a short course of antibiotics, if you fail to start treatment in time the infection could spread to your kidneys, which can become a serious problem.
Keep reading the most common UTI symptoms in women straight from the experts, so you can catch the infection in time.
1. Your Pee Smells Like A Kitty Litter Box
Urine that smells like ammonia—a pungent chemical commonly used in kitty litter and window cleaners—is one of the first really noticeable signs of a urinary tract infection, says ob-gyn Sherry Ross, MD, women’s health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide To Women’s Intimate Health.
Stinky pee can be a side effect of many things, ranging from medical issues—like other types of infections—to silly things, like eating certain foods. (Asparagus, anyone?) Still, it can be difficult to know what’s causing the down-there smell, so give your doc a call, Dr. Ross says.
One of the main determinants in terms of *what* type of infection you’re dealing with is discharge, says ob-gyn “Dr. Lady Doctor,” Kelly Culwell, MD. “Yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or sexually transmitted infections (STI) will have vaginal discharge as one of the symptoms, which doesn’t happen with UTIs,” she notes.
2. Your Pee Looks Like Pink Lemonade Or Tea
Discolored, cloudy urine often accompanies the strong smell of a UTI, Ross says. Normal pee should look clear or light yellow, similar to lemonade. Pee that looks pink or brown might mean there’s bacteria or even a little blood mixed in with your urine. After all, many infections in your urinary tract can cause irritation and bleeding.
3. Your Pee Is Cloudy
You might also notice that your urine looks cloudy, says Sarah Yamaguchi, an LA-based gynecologist at DTLA Gynecology. Overall, experts point out that urine that *just doesn’t look right* definitely warrants a trip to the doctor. A urine test will be able to alert your doc to any infections.
4. You’re Making Potty Stops All The Time…But Not Much Is Coming Out
Feeling like you have to pee all the time, even right after using the bathroom, is a telltale sign of a urinary tract infection, Ross says. It isn’t that you really have to pee every 10 minutes, but rather that you feel the urge to pee constantly. Why? When you have a UTI, bacteria irritate the urethra and bladder.
However, since you likely aren’t actually filled with pee, when you do sit on the toilet instead of finding sweet, sweet relief, not much urine comes out. All you get for your trouble is frustration (and possibly a burning sensation when you strain). If you constantly feel the need to pee, but only a drop or two is coming out, it’s time to call your doctor, Ross says.
5. …Or You Can’t Stop The Pee From Coming
On the other hand, another symptom of UTIs can be incontinence, says Erin Conway, M.D., ob-gyn at Axia Women’s Health. So, if you don’t typically deal with bladder leakage and it’s suddenly become part of your daily repertoire, you might want to consider the possibility of a UTI.
6. Your Pee Burns Like Crazy
Speaking of a burning sensation, another common UTI symptom in women is burning or pain around the opening to your urethra when you pee, Ross says. It may even feel like your urethra is spasming or cramping. Again, this has to do with the bacteria irritating and inflaming your urethra.
Indeed, “It hurts when I pee,” is the number one thing docs hear when it comes to UTI symptoms, says Culwell. When talking to her patient, she then tries to determine whether the burning sensation is on the inside or outside, the latter of which could indicate a vaginal or vulvar infection.
“Most women who have had a UTI know for sure when they are getting one,” Culwell says. “The symptoms of internal pain and urgency with urination are pretty specific.” There are, however, some STIs that can also cause burning with urination (like chlamydia), so Culwell says it’s important for you to talk to your doc so they can run tests—yes, you might have to pee in a cup—to determine what kind of infection you might have.
7. You’ve Got Cramps, But No PMS
Abdominal cramping and pain are other symptoms of a UTI. However, a lot of women mistake them for PMS cramps, low-back issues, or even muscle soreness from overdoing deadlifts at the gym, Ross says.
Don’t fall for it! This is one symptom you should definitely pay attention to, especially if the pain increases over time, is sharp and localized to your lower back, or is accompanied by a fever, she says. This may indicate that the infection has moved up into your kidneys, a potentially serious complication that can land you in the hospital.
You might describe this type of pain might be described as “pressure down there,” Conway notes. Like Ross, Conway says it’s important to seek treatment immediately if this type of pain migrates to your back or you spike a fever.
8. Not Even Your Favorite Ice Cream Tempts You
While they’re less common UTI symptoms in women, loss of appetite, nausea, and even vomiting can occur, particularly if the infection is more severe or has spread to the kidneys, Ross says.
Of course, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting can all point to other issues, as well, but if you experience them along with any other signs of a UTI like burning when you pee or constantly having to go, there’s a pretty good chance you have a UTI.
9. Your Favorite Gym Pants Are Suddenly Very Uncomfortable In The Crotch Region
Sitting around in damp, sweaty yoga pants or workout undies long after your workout creates a breeding ground for bacteria, Ross says. In the early stages, this may simply feel like irritation in your lady bits; leggings or underwear that are normally comfy now suddenly drive you nuts.
Launder your gym clothes after every workout (no more letting them fester in your bag!), Ross advises. Bonus: This also helps prevent other infections, like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
10. You Have No Symptoms At All
Sometimes a UTI may show very minor symptoms or no symptoms at all, Ross says. This is one reason why she advises women to still have regular checkups with their gynecologists even if they’re not in need of a Pap smear.
Regular pelvic exams can help diagnose urinary tract infections before they cause detectable issues, she says. Ideally, you should have one per year.
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