When any part of the urinary tract develops an infection, the symptoms you may experience can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. In an advanced stage of infection, a UTI can pose serious health concerns and may cause lasting damage to kidney function. Learn more about how urinary tract infections develop and what symptoms to look for, and find out how Medicare can help with diagnosis and treatment of a UTI.

Understanding the Causes of Urinary Tract Infections

The urinary tract is the name of the organ system through which your body produces urine as a way to rid itself of waste and excess water. Knowing which organs are part of this filtration process will help you understand how infections develop and why some treatments may be more appropriate than others.

This system includes:

  • Kidneys. These organs, which are shaped like beans, filter blood and produce urine.
  • Ureters. Thin tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder.
  • Bladder. An organ that holds urine after the kidneys have processed it.
  • Urethra. The narrow opening connected to the bladder that releases urine.

An infection can occur in the kidneys, bladder or urethra. The Mayo Clinic notes that the bladder and urethra are the most likely to develop an infection, but if not properly treated, the infection will spread to the kidneys and become more dangerous.

Certain risk factors may make it more likely for you to develop a UTI. Physical abnormalities or blockages in the tract, such as kidney stones or a prostate which is enlarged, can lead to infection. If the immune system is suppressed due to a disease or medical condition, the risk of a UTI rises. Recent surgical procedures to the urinary system or the use of a catheter are also common causes of infection.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, anyone can develop a UTI, but they may be more common in women. The anatomy of female genitalia increases the chance of the urethra being exposed to gastrointestinal bacteria or the spread of infections acquired through sexual activity.

Hormonal changes in women, such as decreasing estrogen in menopause, may also make the urinary system more prone to infection. Additionally, women who use contraception like a diaphragm or spermicidal agents could be at a higher risk of developing a UTI.

Identifying the Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections

A mild or moderate UTI may not have any symptoms, or, the symptoms may be misdiagnosed as other conditions depending on the intensity and location of any pain that arises from an infection. Understanding different common infections can help your doctor determine the right diagnosis.

  • Urethritis. An infection in the urethra. You may experience a burning sensation during urination and there may be discharge from the urethra.
  • Cystitis. An infection in the bladder. You may feel pressure or discomfort in the pelvis and lower abdomen, as well as experience a frequent urge to urinate that may be painful or contain blood.
  • Acute pyelonephritis. An infection in the kidneys. You may have nausea or vomit, a high fever, chills, or pain in the upper back and sides.

Alert your doctor about any concerns you have in order to avoid worsening symptoms. A urine test will help your doctor determine if there is a bacterial infection or inconsistencies in the urine’s chemical profile that point to an underlying medical condition. Delaying treatment may lead to more serious complications.

Medicare Coverage for UTI Treatment

Medicare Part B covers medically necessary services and supplies to help diagnose and treat a UTI. Once diagnosed, urinary tract infections are usually treated with antibiotics. The severity of the infection may determine which antibiotic your doctor chooses to prescribe. If you have Original Medicare and have enrolled in a stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan, or have enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage, you will have help paying for the cost of your medication. You may be responsible for a copayment, co-insurance, or deductible. Each drug plan may have its own formulary, or list of covered drugs, and tiers of pricing. Check with your plan for coverage and cost. If you experience an infection that requires inpatient treatment at a hospital, Medicare Part A will help cover the costs, including medication administered to treat your UTI.

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