A guide to urinary tract infections in men
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are highly common bacterial infections of the urinary tract. Usually caused by the E. coli bacterium, these infections cause uncomfortable–even painful– symptoms. When left untreated, they can lead to further infection and other serious complications.
Women are significantly more at risk for these infections than men, but that does not mean that men are immune to UTIs. In this article, we’ll investigate the prevalence, causes, and symptoms of UTIs in men; we’ll also look into possible treatment options and preventative measures against these infections. Looking for even more information? Book a UTI online doctor visit or an online men’s health visit on Sesame to speak with a licensed health care provider about urinary tract infections.
In general, UTIs are usually caused by a bacterial infection (usually from the E. coli bacterium). The harmful bacterium enters the body through the urethra (the small tube in the penis through which urine is carried), making its way up through the urinary system and spreading to the internal organs. The urinary system consists of the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra.
Your body has natural defenses against Escherichia coli (E. coli), but sometimes that immune system fails and the pathogen can spread and infect the body. E. coli can be carried from the rectum and into the urethra, causing infection. However, this particular form of infection is more common in women than it is in men (due to shorter urethras).
There are two primary types of UTIs: lower-tract infections and upper-tract infections. Lower-tract infections include bladder infections (cystitis) and urethra infections (urethritis). Upper-tract infections include ureter infections and kidney infections (pyelonephritis).
Lower urinary tract infections in men are usually caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. These sexually transmitted infections are more common among younger men. Men who have anal intercourse are also at higher risk of UTIs.
Upper urinary tract infections may be caused by a blockage in the urinary system, like a kidney stone. Similarly, an enlarged prostate gland–also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH–may block the flow of urine through the body. Any blockage of the urinary system causes urine to build up and stagnate, which encourages the growth of bacteria.
Additionally, the use of urinary catheters has been identified as a risk factor for UTIs in men. These devices can become infected with harmful bacteria or may block urine flow from the body.
This is not a complete list of UTI causes in men, but these are among the most common. Other risk factors include:
- A compromised immune system
- Recent surgery on the urinary tract
- Abnormal narrowing of the urethra (urethral stricture)
- Being uncircumcised
- Fecal incontinence
The symptoms of a UTI may vary. Some men experience no symptoms at all, while others experience severe discomfort.
Common UTI symptoms include:
- A strong and persistent urge to urinate
- A burning sensation while urinating (dysuria)
- Frequent urination with little volume
- Cloudy or hazy urine
- If your urine is scarlet, bright pink, or cola-colored, this is an indication that there is blood in it.
- Strong smelling urine
- Pressure or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen
- Back pain (common with kidney infection)
When properly treated, UTIs are easily cured and do not cause complications. If left untreated, however, these infections can lead to a host of problems such as recurrent urinary tract infections, kidney infections and disease, and sepsis–a potentially life-threatening medical emergency. Because of this, it is important that you undergo treatment for a urinary tract infection as soon as you begin to feel symptoms. If you are beginning to experience any of the signs and symptoms listed above, talk to a health care professional right away.
Urinary tract infections are commonly diagnosed via urinalysis. You will likely be asked about your symptoms, your medical history, and your sexual history. Your sexual history is pertinent as STIs are common causes of UTIs.
After this overview, your health care provider will ask for a urine sample to test. This urine sample will be examined under a microscope to check for any abnormalities such as an excessive amount of white blood cells or harmful bacteria. If deemed appropriate, your clinician may send the urine for culture as well. This test evaluates the species of bacteria – and determines what antibiotics will work for it – but takes a few days to get results.
If your provider suspects that your UTI is being caused by an internal problem, you may be asked to undergo additional testing to determine the underlying cause. Additional tests are usually performed at a urology clinic. Your urologist may request an X-ray scan or CT scan to see if the UTI is caused by an enlarged prostate. If the infection is in the bladder, the urologist may perform a cystoscopy to look inside the bladder for any potential problems. Cystoscopy is a procedure in which a small camera is inserted into the urethra and passed into the bladder.
Urinary tract infections are commonly treated with a course of antibiotics. Prescription medication is required to neutralize the invasive bacteria while preventing its spread to other parts of the body.
Common antibiotic treatment options for UTIs include:
- Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
- Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
- Nitrofurantoin (Macrobid)
- Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim)
These antibiotics reduce UTI pain while preventing the infection from becoming any worse. This will shorten the overall infection time and help your body heal quickly. With antibiotic treatment, most uncomplicated UTIs will go away in a matter of days.
Antibiotics have been shown to cause some mild side effects. These include nausea, diarrhea, and skin rash. If these symptoms become severe, or if your UTI doesn’t start feeling better after a few days of antibiotic treatment, talk to a health care provider right away.
There are no over-the-counter or home remedies that can adequately treat a UTI. There is little to no evidence that non-prescription treatment options like cranberry products or probiotics can properly treat a urinary tract infection.
Not all urinary tract infections are avoidable, however, you can cut down on your risk of developing one by practicing these easy preventative measures:
- Drink lots of water
- Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge to do so and be sure to completely empty your bladder
- Use a condom while having sex
- Urinate shortly after having sex
- Maintain good genital hygiene
- Wash under the foreskin when you take a bath or shower (if you are uncircumcised)
While some UTIs are unavoidable, these tips can help minimize your risk of developing one. Regular checkups and preventative care for underlying causes can also help reduce the likelihood of contracting a UTI. If you are at risk for prostate problems, get it checked and treated when appropriate.
UTIs are painful and dangerous. When left untreated, they can lead to more serious complications such as kidney infection and disease. Because of this, men need to get treatment for UTIs as soon as they begin to notice early signs and symptoms. Getting care for a UTI has never been easier or more convenient. Book an online UTI doctor visit or an online urology visit to talk to a licensed health care provider from the comfort of your own home. When appropriate, providers can prescribe antibiotic medication to be delivered to your home or picked up at your local pharmacy.
- Tan, C. W., & Chlebicki, M. P. Urinary tract infections in adults. https://www.nih.gov
- Farrell, K., Tandan, M., Hernandez Santiago, V., Gagyor, I., Braend, A. M., Skow, M., Vik, I., Jansaaker, F., Hayward, G., & Vellinga, A. Treatment of uncomplicated UTI in males: a systematic review of the literature. https://www.nih.gov
- University of Texas at Austin. Urinary Tract Infection in Men. https://www.utexas.edu