Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Facts about UTIs

September 3, 2014

Q.I have this problem with peeing. I have to go all the time, and when I do, it burns. I went on WebMD, and it looks like I might have a UTI. I read the stuff, but I’m still confused. Can you help me understand what it is? And how can I have one of these things when I’ve never even had sex? What do I do now? I can’t tell my mom because she’ll think I’m having sex.


A.I love when young people like you seek a trusted adult when they’re confused about something. Good for you! I do think you should tell your mom. Most adults realize this type of infection can happen to people who have not had sex. Give her this column if you’re worried she may not understand. Your mom can support you.

Looking for medical information online can cause anxiety, even for adults. WebMD may have wonderful information, but nothing replaces the guidance of a health-care provider. I believe in patient education. You have the right to information about your body so you can make an informed choice about your care. Connecting with an adult with medical training is your first step. Only a health-care provider can diagnose UTIs.

UTI is short for urinary tract infection. People can develop UTIs without sexual involvement. Common UTIs affect the bladder (where urine is stored) and the urethra (the tube from the bladder to the outside of the body). A bladder infection is called cystitis. An infection of the urethra is called urethritis. Most people will have at least one UTI in their lifetime; it’s a very common infection.

Symptoms of urinary tract infection may include:

• Feeling like you need to urinate often (urinate is a medical term for “peeing”);

• Burning when urinating;

• Needing to urinate but hardly any urine comes out;

• Strong-smelling urine;

• Urine that is cloudy, dark, red, bright pink or cola-colored;

• Pain in lower back or abdomen;

• Pelvic pain (lower abdomen) in women;

• Rectal pain in men;

• Feeling lousy physically;

• Fever and chills are unlikely but may occur.

When you go to a health-care provider, they will ask for a urine sample. They will probably ask you to do a clean-catch sample (which means you will clean yourself before you urinate in the specimen container). They may do a culture of your urine.

Most UTIs respond well to antibiotics to fight the bacteria that caused the infection. Many UTIs are caused by e-coli (the normal bacteria in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract). In other words, e-coli are found in stools. Take every pill in your antibiotic prescription, even if the symptoms go away. It’s important to follow all your doctor’s instructions so the infection doesn’t return.

To help prevent UTIs you should:

• Drink plenty of fluids daily;

• Cut down on caffeine, alcohol and sweets;

• Urinate often;

• For women, wipe yourself from front to back after moving your bowels;

• Wash hands well;

• Manage stress.

Women are at higher risk for UTIs because of the short distance between the anus and the urethra. E-coli and other bacteria can travel from one opening to the other. UTIs are often associated with sex since STIs (sexually-transmitted infections) like gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause UTIs. When a woman is sexually involved, it’s a good idea for her to urinate before and after sex to help prevent UTIs.

I hope you feel better very soon.

Have a question? Connect with Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski at



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