What You Need to Know About UTIs

Burning when you urinate. A frequent urge to urinate. Pain in your back or abdomen. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? These are all symptoms of a urinary tract infection, or UTI, for short. Studies show that people with Type 2 diabetes have a greater risk of getting a UTI than people without diabetes. Despite the fact that UTIs are common, they can also lead to more serious situations if they’re not caught and treated.


What is a UTI, anyway?

A UTI is an infection in your urinary tract. Your urinary tract includes your kidneys, bladder, ureters, urethra, and, in men, prostate. Most UTIs occur in your bladder, the organ that stores your urine.

What causes a UTI?

A UTI is caused by bacteria, usually from the bowels. Normally, the urinary tract system has safeguards to protect against infection. For example, the ureters, which are the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder, have one-way valves to prevent urine from backing up into the kidneys. The process of emptying your bladder (called urination) also helps to flush out bacteria and other microbes. And a healthy immune system helps protect against infection, as well.

Why are UTIs more common in people with diabetes?

UTIs are the second most common type of infection. Women are 10 times more likely to get a UTI than men because of their anatomy. In fact, more than 50% of women will have a UTI at some point in their lives. If you’re a woman with Type 2 diabetes, your risk may be even higher, according to two studies. In one study, 9% of the subjects with diabetes had UTIs compared with 6% of those without diabetes. And the second study showed that people with diabetes had a 60% higher risk of getting a UTI compared to those without diabetes.

Why are people with diabetes more prone to UTIs? There are likely several reasons. First, people with diabetes may have poor circulation, which reduces the ability of white blood cells to travel in the body and fight off any kind of infection. Second, high blood glucose levels can also raise the risk of a UTI. And third, some people with diabetes have bladders that don’t empty as well as they should. As a result, urine stays in the bladder too long and becomes a breeding ground for bacteria.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

Signs and symptoms of a UTI include:

• Pain or burning when you urinate

• Feeling like you have to urinate all the time even though no urine may come out

• Strong-smelling urine

• Urine that is cloudy, dark, or bloody

• Fever or chills

• Pain in your back or abdomen

How are UTIs diagnosed?

You’ll need to see your health-care provider right away if you have any of the above symptoms. Once you’re in the doctor’s office, you’ll be asked to give a urine sample, which will be tested for bacteria. Other tests can be used, too, to diagnose UTIs, such as ultrasound, MRI, and CT scan, especially if you keep getting UTIs.

How are UTIs treated?

If your urine tests positive for bacteria, your provider will prescribe an antibiotic, usually for three days, but maybe longer if the infection is more serious. Not getting a UTI treated can lead to a kidney infection, which can increase the risk of kidney damage. You might see over-the-counter products for a UTI at your local drugstore. These are not a treatment for a UTI, but they may help relieve some of the pain and burning. However, don’t take these without first checking with your provider or pharmacist.

Can UTIs be prevented?

Yes! Although having diabetes puts you at a higher risk for a UTI, you can take steps to prevent it.

• Try to keep blood glucose levels within your target range as much as possible.

• Drink plenty of fluids (mostly water).

• Consider drinking low-sugar cranberry juice (not cranberry juice cocktail) or taking cranberry supplements. Cranberries are thought to contain substances that prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.

• Eat yogurt that contains healthful bacteria called probiotics. Or, talk to your provider about taking a probiotic supplement that contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Lactobacillus reuteri.

• Wear cotton underwear.

• Urinate after having intercourse to help flush away any bacteria.

• Urinate frequently. Don’t hold your urine in for too long.

• Wipe from front to back after using the toilet.

•For women, using certain types of birth control, like the diaphragm or spermicides, may increase the risk for UTIs. Talk to your provider about possibly switching if you think this may be a cause of UTIs for you.

Want to know more about urinary tract health? Read “Diabetes and Chronic UTIs: Questions and Answers,” “What Is Your Urine Trying to Tell You?” and “Resolving Diabetes-Related Bladder Problems.”

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  • bernice bucker

    thank u for this information it was helpful for me the only thing im concerned aobut is I get this uti infection all the time..the symptom I egnore sometimes I just think its just me and I don’t feel good but sunday my blood sugar was 360 its never got that highb ut its been running high all week,,, my daughter who is the same as me she got this diabetes befor I did… ive had it for almost 3 years the uti in the last 2 years has caused my life to be hurtfull.. I just want to get rid of it and stay gone im sure that s not possible.. thank u for the articile keep them coming also im almost 84

    • lucy

      Question cam you still get pregnant with having uti’s all the time ??

    • KLH6

      High blood sugars will greatly increase your chance of UTI & also infections will increase blood glucose. It’s a “catch 22”. You can buy test strips online to test your urine. As soon as it shows even a trace call your doctor. If you get a lot of UTIs, you might want to consult a urologist. The strips I get are Uristix 4 (keukocytes, nitrites, glucose & protein). You just need to pee in a cup & have a watch or clock with 2nd hand. It only takes 2 minutes to test all 4 components. I searched online to find who had them cheapest. They come in bottles of a 100.

  • Joe

    A question regarding white blood cell counts and infections in general. Is there something about being diebetic that can mask the usual symptoms of infection? I almost never get fevers (maybe four in my entire fifty-some years)and I virtually always have a slightly elevated WBC. A few years ago I had a raging UTI associated with an impacted kidney stone. My urine test showed very high bacteria levels, but still no fever and the usual mildly elevated WBC. I’m concerned that my wierd biology might lead doctors to miss a potential infection.

    • KLH6

      I worked as an RN for 38 years & noticed that diabetic women would have nasty looking, infected urine but no symptoms. Many also don’t feel urge to void till their bladder is way over distended. I think it must be some kind of neuropathy where they just don’t feel the urge. I know many diabetics have peripheral neuropathy in their feet. I wonder if that happens to the bladder also.

  • Mary Thompson

    I am a Type 2 diabetic and get frequent UTI’s without any signs of infection. This is truly scary for me since I lost a kidney with the first one.
    I was hospitalized in Feb ’14 with another one. I had severe dehydration and didn’t even remember what state I was in among most other things.
    My husband was casually talking to an EMT and the EMT said he frequently sees older diabetic women with UTI with dehydration and memory loss.
    Also, many diabetics see a spike in sugar level when they get an infection.

  • acampbell

    Hi Bernice,

    Your blood sugars can run high when you have an infection, such as a UTI. Please talk with your doctor about the fact that your UTIs keep recurring so that he or she can help determine the cause. You may need a longer course of antibiotics. Also, consider drinking a small amount of pure (no sugar) cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements. It’s possible that taking probiotics (good bacteria) may be helpful, too, but again, discuss all of this with your doctor.

  • acampbell

    Hi Joe,

    Not being a doctor, my guess is that perhaps your “normal” WBC count may run higher than other people’s. There’s a range of what is considered to be normal, or healthy, but it’s possible that your normal range tends to run on the higher side. It’s also possible to have an infection without having a fever. Generally, though, if you have an infection, you’ll have some kind of sign or symptom (sore throat, pain, etc.). However, it’s a good question to ask your doctor!

  • acampbell

    Hi Mary,

    Thanks for sharing. UTIs are more common in women than men, and having diabetes puts one at higher risk for one, as well. An untreated UTI can cause confusion and delirium in older adults. Talk with your doctor about what you can do to prevent UTIs as much as possible (plenty of fluids, low dose antibiotics, cranberry juice or supplements, probiotics, etc.).

  • Linda Brown

    Blood in the urine and frequent UTIs can also be a symptom of bladder cancer. Mine were. After surgery, my doctor our me on mannose cranberry. It’s a non digestible sugar.

  • Mary Thompson

    I forgot to mention I take an antibiotic every day. I ran out before this last infection. They really help with this problem.

    • Niyukti Singh

      Does taking medicine really helps?

  • KLH6

    I have a real dilemma. I have had interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome) for 9 years. I also have to take prophylactic antibiotics or I get a bladder infection. Since my bladder lining is already compromised, getting an infection is pure torture! It takes weeks to get back to baseline. I have numerous diet restrictions & triggers. No citrus, no cranberry juice, tea, coffee, cola, etc. I drink bottled water & chamomile tea. I’d like a natural antiseptic for the bladder. My urologist put me on aloe vera but it gave me GI problems. She said D-mannose wasn’t as effective as aloe vera. I’m not sure what to do. I also have my own urine test strips that test leukocytes, nitrites, protein & glucose. I also get symptoms with fewer than 100,000 bacteria but labs won’t culture unless it’s >100,000 even though I read that 30 % of women get symptoms with less than that. I’ve known it to be true for me for years. Finally I saw it on 2 websites.

  • KLH6

    But getting pregnant while having UTI is dangerous. The ureters dilate during pregnancy making it more likely to get a kidney infection (pyelonephritis) & needs to be treated immediately, often times with IV antibiotics in hospital. A girlfriend from long ago, who was a nurse, got a bladder infection. She took antibiotics but they didn’t recheck to make sure infection was cleared up. She ended up with pyelonephritis ( infection in kidneys) & in hospital for 3 days over Christmas. Boy was she ticked! It can cause pregnancy complications, too!

  • Janice Sottile-Morin

    Never ignore symptoms of a UTI. I tried to self-treat by drinking more water and taking d-mannose and wound up in the hospital 5 days with sepsis. Now as soon as I see even a hint of cloudy urine I get a urine specimen to my doctor asap. Because I also have Interstitial Cystitis and Type 2 (which, by the way, was dx’d when I was in the hospital) my doctor keeps a running refill on my antibiotic. I don’t like taking them, but I’d rather that than wind up in the hospital again. That was scary! 🙁 I also now take a pro-biotic.