Let’s be blunt: Urinary tract infections (a.k.a. UTIs) are a woman’s nemesis. An infection of the bladder and urethra, this condition can be difficult to avoid thanks to the short length of women’s urethras, which means that bacteria near the genitals don’t have to travel far to reach the bladder and multiply. Ugh.
You can get a UTI for a variety of reasons, including seemingly harmless things like holding your pee too long between bathroom breaks or not changing out of your wet swimsuit. UTIs are not an STD, although you can get UTI-causing bacteria from sex. (And, like with STDs, you can reduce your chances of getting a UTI by using condoms.)
UTIs will affect an estimated 40 to 60 percent of women during their lifetime. In other words, if you haven’t had one yet—well—you have a statistically good chance of having one eventually (sorry). Here’s how to recognize the signs that your pain down there is actually a urinary tract infection:
A frequent urge to pee.
A burning sensation, especially when you’re going to the bathroom.
Foul-smelling, cloudy, and sometimes bloody urine. (Here are other health issues your pee color can signify.)
Pain or pressure in the back, lower belly, or sides. It might feel like someone is sitting on your bladder.
If the infection spreads to the kidneys, it could cause a serious infection called pyelonephritis. There are two major clues that the UTI has moved to the kidneys.
Fever and fatigue
Nausea and vomiting
If you’ve got a burning sensation when you go #1 but your pee doesn’t smell (more than usual anyway), you might just have a yeast infection. Look for cottage cheese-like discharge, a trademark sign of a yeast infection, also known as vaginitis. This burning, stinging, oh-so-itchy infection is common and can be treated with OTC meds.
If you’re sure it’s not a yeast infection, talk to your doctor ASAP. With proper (and immediate) treatment for a UTI, kidney infections and other complications are rare, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Your doc can also rule out the possibility of an STD.
Oh, and most importantly, your doctor will get you back to pain-free bathroom breaks.