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Most people will have some kind of urinary problem or injury in their lifetime. Urinary tract problems and injuries can range from minor to more serious. Sometimes, minor and serious problems can start with the same symptoms. Many urinary problems and injuries are minor, and home treatment is all that's needed to relieve your symptoms.
Urine color and odor
Many things can affect urine color, including fluid balance, diet, medicines, and diseases. How dark or light the color is tells you how much water is in it. Vitamin B supplements can turn urine bright yellow. Some medicines, blackberries, beets, rhubarb, and blood in the urine can turn urine red-brown.
Some foods (such as asparagus), vitamins, and antibiotics (such as penicillin) can cause urine to have a different odor. A sweet, fruity odor may be caused by uncontrolled diabetes. A urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause a bad odor.
Common symptoms of a urinary problem include:
- A burning feeling when you urinate (dysuria). This is the most common symptom of a urinary tract infection.
- A frequent urge to urinate without being able to pass much urine (frequency).
- Pain in the flank. This is felt just below the rib cage and above the waist on one or both sides of the back.
- A fever.
- An urgent need to urinate (urgency).
- Feeling like you can't completely empty your bladder.
- Blood in the urine (hematuria). Your urine may look red, brown, or pink. Blood in the urine may occur after intense exercise, such as running or biking.
- Leaking urine (incontinence).
- Nausea and vomiting.
When you only have one symptom or if your symptoms are vague, it can be harder to figure out what the problem is. If you are slightly dehydrated, your urine will be more concentrated. Urinating may cause discomfort. Drink more fluids to help decrease discomfort.
Urinary tract infections
When you have a urinary tract infection (UTI), you may have several urinary symptoms. UTIs are more common in women than in men. That's because the urethra is shorter in women. It comes into contact with bacteria from the skin, anus, and vagina.
Infections that commonly cause UTI symptoms include:
- Bladder infections. They are the most common type of UTI. They occur most often in sexually active women ages 20 to 50. An estimated 50% of women get bladder infections sometime during their lives.
- Kidney infections. They are less common and more serious than bladder infections.
- Prostatitis and epididymitis. These are urinary tract problems in men.
- Urethritis. It can occur with sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It causes pain when you urinate.
- Interstitial cystitis. It causes symptoms like a UTI, but no infection is present.
Other urinary problems
Kidney stones are another urinary problem that can cause mild to severe urinary symptoms. Men ages 20 to 30 are affected most often with kidney stones. But anyone can get stones at any age.
An injury to the genital area can cause severe pain. But how bad the pain is doesn't always match how severe the injury is. After an injury such as a hit to the genital area, it's important to watch for urinary problems. You will usually need to see your doctor if you have trouble urinating, can't urinate, have blood in your urine, have swelling, or have ongoing pain.
In women and girls, genital skin irritation can cause pain with urination.
Urinary problems related to aging
As people age, some urinary problems become more common. Stress incontinence is the most common form of urinary incontinence in older women. Multiple childbirths, aging, and decreasing hormone levels may cause changes in the pelvic muscles and supportive structures. These changes can lead to stress incontinence. It may also occur in men, especially those who have had prostate surgery.
In men, trouble urinating or not being able to urinate is often caused by prostate enlargement.
Check Your Symptoms
The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.
- If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
- If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
- If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
- Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
- Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
- Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
- Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
- Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
- Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
- Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.
Temperature varies a little depending on how you measure it. For adults and children age 12 and older, these are the ranges for high, moderate, and mild, according to how you took the temperature.
Oral (by mouth) temperature
- High: 104°F (40°C) and higher
- Moderate: 100.4°F (38°C) to 103.9°F (39.9°C)
- Mild: 100.3°F (37.9°C) and lower
A forehead (temporal) scanner is usually 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature.
- High: 105°F (40.6°C) and higher
- Moderate: 101.4°F (38.6°C) to 104.9°F (40.5°C)
- Mild: 101.3°F (38.5°C) and lower
Armpit (axillary) temperature
- High: 103°F (39.5°C) and higher
- Moderate: 99.4°F (37.4°C) to 102.9°F (39.4°C)
- Mild: 99.3°F (37.3°C) and lower
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and illness. Some examples in adults are:
- Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.
- Long-term alcohol and drug problems.
- Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety of conditions.
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer.
- Other medicines used to treat autoimmune disease.
- Medicines taken after organ transplant.
- Not having a spleen.
Symptoms of diabetes may include:
- Increased thirst and more frequent urination, especially at night.
- An increase in how hungry you are.
- Losing or gaining weight for no clear reason.
- Unexplained fatigue.
- Blurred vision.
A severe urgency problem means that:
- You are uncomfortable most of the time.
- You get the urge to go again right after you have just urinated.
- The problem interferes with your daily activities.
- The urge keeps you from sleeping at night.
A moderate or mild urgency problem means that:
- The urge to urinate comes more often than you are used to, but it is not constant.
- It does not interfere much with your daily activities.
- It usually does not keep you from sleeping.
Pain in adults and older children
- Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
- Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days. Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's there.
- Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain, but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
If you're not sure if a fever is high, moderate, or mild, think about these issues:
With a high fever:
- You feel very hot.
- It is likely one of the highest fevers you've ever had. High fevers are not that common, especially in adults.
With a moderate fever:
- You feel warm or hot.
- You know you have a fever.
With a mild fever:
- You may feel a little warm.
- You think you might have a fever, but you're not sure.
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause urinary symptoms. A few examples include:
- Blood thinners (anticoagulants).
- Opioid pain medicines.
- Tricyclic antidepressants.
It is easy for your diabetes to become out of control when you are sick. Because of an illness:
- Your blood sugar may be too high or too low.
- You may not be able take your diabetes medicine (if you are vomiting or having trouble keeping food or fluids down).
- You may not know how to adjust the timing or dose of your diabetes medicine.
- You may not be eating enough or drinking enough fluids.
An illness plan for people with diabetes usually covers things like:
- How often to test blood sugar and what the target range is.
- Whether and how to adjust the dose and timing of insulin or other diabetes medicines.
- What to do if you have trouble keeping food or fluids down.
- When to call your doctor.
The plan is designed to help keep your diabetes in control even though you are sick. When you have diabetes, even a minor illness can cause problems.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
- Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
- If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
- If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
- Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
- You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
- You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
- You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Make an Appointment
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
- Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
- If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
- If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
Starting home treatment at the first minor signs of a bladder infection may prevent the problem from getting worse, clear up your infection, and prevent complications. Here are some things you can do.
- Drink more fluids.
Start drinking extra fluids as soon as you notice the symptoms and for the next 24 hours. This will help dilute the urine, flush bacteria out of the bladder, and decrease irritation. But if a medical condition such as a kidney or heart problem prevents you from drinking more fluids, just make sure to drink your usual amount of fluids.
- Urinate when you feel the urge.
Don't wait until a more convenient time.
- Don't drink alcohol, caffeine, or fizzy drinks.
They can irritate the bladder.
- Take a warm bath.
A bath may help relieve pain and itching. Avoid using bubble bath. It may cause more irritation. If urinary pain or vaginal burning and redness occur in a young girl, she may have an allergy to bubble bath or soap.
- Use gentle soaps, such as hypoallergenic ones.
Avoid deodorant soaps. Use as little soap as you can. Don't use perfumes or feminine hygiene sprays on the genital area.
- Apply a heating pad over your genital area to help relieve the pain.
Set the heating pad temperature on low. Never go to sleep with a heating pad in place.
- Examine your genital area.
Increased redness may mean skin irritation.
- Wear loose clothing and soft cotton underwear.
- Avoid intercourse until symptoms improve.
Don't use a diaphragm or spermicidal cream, foam, or gel. A diaphragm may put pressure on your urethra. This pressure may slow down or prevent your bladder from emptying completely. Spermicides can cause genital skin irritation.
When to call for help during self-care
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
- Not being able to urinate, or having more trouble urinating.
- New belly pain or pain in the flank, which is just below the rib cage and above the waist on either side of the back.
- New fever, vomiting, or blood in the urine.
- Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.
Preparing For Your Appointment
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of: June 16, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine