Bladder infection symptoms in women: What to watch out for

By Robert A. Fried, MD Aug 29, 2022 • 3 min

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common problem, especially in women. In fact, about half of all women will have one at some point in their lives. The most common type of UTI, a bladder infection, often causes symptoms that are annoying or uncomfortable. While symptoms may vary from person to person, it’s important to recognize the signs of a bladder infection in women so you can seek medical care for treatment quickly.

Symptoms of a UTI in women

Women may experience any of these symptoms with a bladder infection:

  • Burning or pain while urinating
  • Needing to urinate more frequently than usual
  • Cramping or a sensation of pressure in the lower abdomen
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine

A lower UTI, also called a bladder infection or cystitis, is generally limited to the bladder and urethra. An upper UTI involves the kidney and is usually called a kidney infection or pyelonephritis. A kidney infection can begin if an infection in the bladder or urethra travels to one or both kidneys. About 1 in every 30 people with a bladder infection goes on to have a kidney infection, and it can be severe. Symptoms of a kidney infection can include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Blood in the urine
  • Back, side or flank pain
  • Urinating more frequently
  • Feeling a strong urge to urinate
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

Can a UTI cause a fever?

A fever is unusual if a woman has a bladder infection—that is, if she has a lower UTI. A kidney infection, on the other hand, usually does produce a fever along with other symptoms.

Are UTIs painful?

Lower UTIs (bladder infections) can produce some cramping or pressure in the lower abdomen, as well as pain while urinating. Upper UTIs (kidney infections) often produce pain in the side, back or groin.

Do UTIs cause back pain?

People often experience back pain with kidney infections. The kidneys are in the back of the body, under the rib cage on each side of the spine. The pain is usually dull, deep and high up in the back. The pain is unlikely to improve with resting, stretching or moving around if it’s caused by a kidney infection. This is different from the lower back pain that many people can experience when they twist or lift something heavy.

Bladder infections are a common problem for women. If you are experiencing symptoms, it's important to seek medical attention and treatment, which may include over-the-counter urinary tract infection products, as well as prescription medications like antibiotics.

Published August 2022.

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