Healthcare provider holding urine sample for UTI testing

What can cause a UTI?

Written on January 30, 2023 by Gillian Singer, MPH, Sexuality Educator & Certified Sexologist. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

About urinary tract infections (UTIs)

The Mayo Clinic characterizes urinary tract infections (UTIs) as “an infection in any part of the urinary system.” The urinary system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra [1]. The most common type of UTI is a bladder infection, says the CDC, also known as cystitis [2].

Generally speaking, UTIs aren’t usually dangerous and are common. Unfortunately, they are quite uncomfortable/painful and require immediate medical attention to prevent the infection from spreading to the kidneys (pyelonephritis).

UTI symptoms

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but below are symptoms provided by the CDC for both bladder and kidney infections.

Symptoms of a bladder infection:

  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling the need to urinate despite having an empty bladder
  • Bloody urine
  • Pressure or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen

Symptoms of a kidney infection:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Lower back pain or pain in the side of your back
  • Nausea or vomiting [2]

Causes of UTIs

Most UTIs result from Escherichia coli (E. coli) making their way into the urinary tract via the urethra, which leads to the bladder. E. coli is a naturally found bacteria in the body (normally in the gut) — issues arise when that bacterium travels to other parts of the body. Other microbes that can lead to UTIs are Staphylococcus saprophyticus (a type of staph infection) and Klebsiella pneumoniae (a bacteria usually associated with pneumonia).

Risk factors for UTIs

The following are risk factors for UTIs [2]:

Prior bladder infection

If you have had a UTI in the past, you are more likely to have another one in the future. This is because the bacteria that cause UTIs can remain in the urinary tract and can cause recurrent infections.

Female anatomy

Females “get UTIs up to 30 times more often than [males] do… because a [female]’s urethra (the tube from the bladder to where the urine comes out of the body) is shorter than a [male]’s.” [3]

Sexual activity

Sexual activity can introduce bacteria into the urethra.

Certain types of birth control

The Mayo Clinic says, “Using diaphragms for birth control may increase the risk of UTIs. Using spermicidal agents also can increase risk” [2].


Following menopause, “a decline in circulating estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract. The changes can increase the risk of UTIs” [2].

Urinary tract problems and blockages

This includes anatomical abnormalities that you can be born with. Also, backed-up urine can lead to infection. Blockages could include kidney stones or an enlarged prostate, both of which can “trap” urine in the bladder [2].

A suppressed immune system

Conditions such as diabetes can weaken the immune system, which is responsible for protecting against harmful bacteria, thereby increasing the likelihood of urinary tract infections.

Catheter use

Individuals who are unable to urinate independently may resort to using a tube known as a catheter. However, this method increases the chance of urinary tract infections. Catheters are commonly used in hospitals and by those who have neurological issues that impede their ability to control urination or are paralyzed [2].

A recent urinary procedure

“Urinary surgery or an exam of your urinary tract that involves medical instruments can both increase the risk of developing a UTI” [2].


The Mayo Clinic and CDC make the following recommendations to prevent UTIs [1,2]:

  • Drink plenty of liquids, especially water
  • Try cranberry juice
  • Wipe from front to back (especially after bowel movements)
  • Empty your bladder soon after having sex
  • Avoid potentially irritating feminine products
  • Change your birth control method


Antibiotics for UTIs require a prescription, and thus, must be obtained through a healthcare provider. However, it is not necessary to visit a doctor’s office or leave your home to obtain a prescription.

Everlywell offers telehealth appointments where you can schedule an appointment for potential UTI treatment online with a healthcare provider who can diagnose and prescribe antibiotics if needed. The prescription will be sent to your local pharmacy. This telehealth option is both convenient and private, and there is no waiting time for care or treatment. Appointments can be as low as $10, and even without insurance, the cost is less than $60.

Telehealth with Everlywell is as easy as 1, 2, 3:

  1. Create your profile and verify if your insurance is accepted.
  2. Schedule your visit online.
  3. Get a care plan which may include testing, prescriptions, and lifestyle recommendations.

Things to avoid when you have a UTI: what you need to know

You can get UTI antibiotics online: here's how

Can antibiotics for a UTI be prescribed virtually?


  1. Urinary tract infection (UTI). Mayo Clinic. URL. Published September 14, 2022. Accessed December 6, 2022.
  2. Urinary Tract Infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Published October 6, 2021. Accessed December 6, 2022.
  3. Urinary tract infections. Women's Health. Who Get's UTIs? URL. Last Updated February 22, 2021. Accessed January 31, 2023
Everlywell makes lab testing easy and convenient with at-home collection and digital results in days. Learn More