A urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause a variety of symptoms, including temporary urinary incontinence.
UTIs are very common. According to the Urology Care Foundation, around 60% of females and 12% of males experience at least one UTI in their lifetimes.
A UTI can develop when bacteria enter the urethra and travel up the urinary tract to the bladder. Sometimes, the bacteria infect more distant parts of the tract, such as the kidneys.
This article describes how UTIs can cause urinary incontinence, as well as other symptoms of these infections and the treatments. We also look into alternate causes of urinary incontinence.
A UTI is a bacterial infection somewhere in the urinary tract. The tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.
The kidneys produce urine to help carry waste out of the body. The urine travels from the kidneys to the bladder via tubes called the ureters. Once the bladder is full, it signals to the brain that the person needs to urinate.
During urination, the bladder releases the urine through a tube called the urethra. The urine leaves the body through the urethral opening.
Sometimes, bacteria get into the urethral opening, then travel up into the bladder. This infection, a UTI, causes the bladder to become swollen and irritated. As a result, urine can leak out.
A number of factors can cause a person to experience urinary incontinence, besides a UTI. The most common causes are:
Stress urinary incontinence
This occurs when sudden pressure on the bladder causes it to leak urine.
Stress urinary incontinence usually develops when the muscles that would ordinarily prevent urine leakage — including the pelvic floor muscles and the urethral sphincter — become damaged or weakened.
People with this type of incontinence may experience leakage during physical activity or when coughing or sneezing, for example.
The term overactive bladder refers to a group of urinary symptoms. The most common of these symptoms is a sudden or frequent urge to urinate.
According to the Urology Care Foundation, overactive bladder affects around 40% of females and 30% of males in the United States.
Males tend to develop the condition later in life, due to prostate problems. Females tend to develop it following menopause.
Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder fills up but is unable to release urine. This condition is common among males who have enlarged prostates or other health issues.
Overflow incontinence can cause the body to release small, infrequent amounts of urine or a continual drip of urine.
A person may have a combination of overactive bladder and stress urinary incontinence.
This can lead to sudden, frequent urges to urinate, in addition to leakage during physical activity, coughing, or sneezing.
The most common symptom of a UTI is pain or discomfort when urinating.
A UTI can also cause the following symptoms:
- a strong urge to urinate but very little output
- urine with an unpleasant odor
- cloudy urine
- blood in the urine
- pressure or cramping sensations in the groin
- a fever, in young children
If a person does not receive treatment, a UTI can lead to a kidney infection. Some symptoms of a kidney infection include:
Kidney infections are serious and require prompt treatment. If a person suspects that they have a kidney infection, they should see a doctor right away.
UTIs are relatively easy to treat — these bacterial infections usually respond to antibiotics. A longer course of oral antibiotics or intravenous treatment may be necessary for some people.
Before prescribing treatment, however, the doctor will rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.
A person should see a doctor if they experience persistent symptoms of a UTI.
Receiving treatment early on can help prevent the infection from reaching the kidneys.
Kidney infections can lead to serious complications, such as sepsis, which involves an infection entering the bloodstream. This can quickly become life threatening.
Also, anyone who experiences burning during urination or notices blood in their urine should receive medical attention. These can be symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection, which requires a different approach to treatment.
A UTI can cause urinary incontinence. It can also cause symptoms such as an urgent or frequent need to urinate, a burning feeling while urinating, and blood in the urine.
If a person does not receive treatment, a UTI can spread to the kidneys, and this can cause serious health complications, such as sepsis. Receiving treatment for a UTI right away can help prevent these complications.
A person should see a doctor if they develop urinary incontinence or any other symptoms of a UTI. The doctor will diagnose the cause and provide appropriate treatment.