Though urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more common in women, they can also occur in men.
In this article, I’ll describe the two main types of UTIs in men as well as their symptoms and potential causes. I’ll also review how doctors diagnose and treat UTIs in men. Finally, I’ll address who is most at risk for getting a UTI, how it can affect older adults and children differently, and which behaviors may help prevent a UTI.
In most cases, UTIs are easy to treat, but they do not go away on their own. Knowing how to recognize the symptoms of a UTI will help you determine when it’s important to see a healthcare professional for treatment.
What Is a UTI?
A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract, which can include the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. The infection is most commonly caused by the bacterium escherichia coli (E. coli), which is naturally present in the body.
The most common symptom of UTIs in men is urinary frequency, or experiencing a frequent urge to urinate. Some men may also experience a painful or burning sensation while urinating. Additional symptoms can also present depending on where your infection is located, and some men may experience no symptoms at all.
Generally, doctors refer to two types of UTIs:
- Upper tract: An upper tract infection refers to a UTI that is found in the ureters or has spread to the kidneys. A kidney infection (pyelonephritis) can occur when bacteria have traveled upward in the urinary tract from the bladder to the kidney or because bacteria carried in the bloodstream have collected in the kidney. Symptoms of an upper tract UTI or kidney infection can include pain in the upper back or side, high fever, shaking and chills, nausea, or vomiting.
- Lower tract: A lower tract infection refers to a UTI that is found or has spread to the bladder (also called cystitis or a bladder infection), prostate (prostatitis), or urethra (urethritis). Common causes of lower tract UTIs are intestinal bacteria, which can spread from the skin to the urethra and then to the bladder, and bacteria or microorganisms transmitted through sexual contact. Symptoms of a lower tract UTI can include pelvic pressure, pain or pressure in the lower abdomen, frequent and painful urination, blood in urine, and discharge.
Though it’s not always possible for a doctor to distinguish between a lower or upper tract infection, it can be helpful when determining the length of antibiotic treatment.
How Do You Diagnose and Treat a UTI?
To diagnose a UTI, your doctor may ask for a sample of your urine. They’ll use this for a urine culture to determine the levels of germs and bacteria in your urine. In rare cases, your doctor may also do an X-ray or ultrasound to get a more comprehensive look at your urinary tract.
If a UTI is confirmed, depending on the location and severity of the infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.
For an uncomplicated lower tract infection, your doctor will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics to be taken over five to seven days.
If you have an upper tract infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for three weeks or longer.
In the rare case of a severe infection, your doctor may recommend hospital treatment and a course of intravenous antibiotics.
Who Is at Higher Risk for UTIs?
Several demographics are at a higher risk of getting a UTI:
- Older men: UTIs are common in older men because of the increased likelihood of developing an enlarged prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). In men with BPH, the prostate gland enlarges and wraps around the bladder neck, making it more difficult for urine to flow freely. When this happens, bacteria that are normally flushed out with urine can build up in the bladder, leading to an infection. Older men are also more likely to experience fecal incontinence, which can significantly increase the likelihood of developing a UTI. Long-term use of urinary catheters can also increase the risk of developing a UTI, since using a catheter can introduce bacteria into the bladder.
- Younger, sexually active men: Though UTIs are more common in men over 50, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are more likely to cause UTIs in younger men. In fact, STIs, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, are the most common cause of UTIs in younger men.
- Men who have anal intercourse: Anal intercourse can expose the urethra to more bacteria, particularly bacteria of the rectum, which increases the risk of developing a UTI.
- Men with diabetes: Diabetes can affect the function of the immune system, putting diabetics at a higher risk of UTIs. In addition, higher blood sugar levels can create a more favorable growth environment for pathogens.
- Uncircumcised, younger men: Studies suggest that lack of circumcision increases the risk of UTI in young men and boys.
Top Ways to Prevent a UTI
Several factors can encourage bacteria to grow and spread within the urinary tract. Though UTIs aren’t always preventable, some behaviors may help protect against bacterial spread and infection in both men and women:
- Practice safe sex: Condom use can help prevent bacterial infections that are transmitted through sexual contact.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day will help encourage urination, which works to flush out bacteria from your urinary tract. If it’s hot out or if you’ve been exercising, be sure to drink even more water.
- Don’t “hold it in”: Urinate when you feel the urge. Holding it in can lead to a collection of bacteria in the bladder or urinary tract.
- Use good hygiene: Wipe from front to back after bowel movements, and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
UTI Prevention in Men
Most of the behaviors that can help prevent UTIs in women can also help prevent UTIs in men. Additionally, treating prostate problems, including BPH, can help men improve urine flow and reduce the risk of UTI.
UTI Prevention in Older Adults
In addition to treating prostate problems, eliminating caffeine and alcohol may help older men with BPH improve urine flow and prevent the buildup of urine in the bladder, which can increase the likelihood of an infection.
UTI Prevention in Children
Circumcision in infancy can significantly reduce the likelihood of UTI in boys. One study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics reported an 11-fold increase in UTI rate among uncircumcised boys compared to circumcised boys.
Can You Prevent a UTI When You Feel It Coming On?
If you feel symptoms of a UTI, infection is likely already present. So you should consult with your doctor to determine the right course of treatment. Home remedies, such as drinking cranberry juice and taking probiotics, have not been scientifically proven to help prevent or treat a UTI.
When to See a Doctor
If you experience any symptoms of a urinary tract infection, like frequent or painful urination, reach out to your doctor or urologist. Do so immediately if you experience any symptoms of a bladder or kidney infection, such as fever, vomiting, or back pain.
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