Thought I Had A UTI But I Was Pregnant: The Surprising Facts

If you have lower back pain, pelvic pressure, and frequent urge to urinate, you may suspect you have a UTI. But, these UTI symptoms are also signs that you may be experiencing the early onset of pregnancy. Pregnancy has the capability of altering the body’s normal processes when the hormone kicks in. Often, the symptoms vary from woman to woman, and the signs are mistaken for something else. For some women, pregnancy can imitate a urinary tract infection symptom. Or, she is probably getting the infection caused by the pregnancy. 

How can you tell if your signs are just run-of-the-mill infections or you are already expecting?

Sometimes pregnancy can be mistaken for UTI, and here is the deal about it.

UTI in early pregnancy

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of the urinary system caused by bacteria.

It is a common symptom in pregnant women and is characterized by:

  • Urgent need to pee
  • Burning sensation when urinating
  • Cramps and lower back pain
  • Cloudy, bloody, and often stinky urine
  • Pain above the pubic bone
  • Incontinence or urine leaking

Why can pregnancy cause a UTI?

The hormones can cause changes in the urinary tract, increasing women’s susceptibility to infection during pregnancy.

Hormonal changes can lead to vesicoureteral reflux, a condition when urine flows back from the bladder to the kidney. When it happens, it puts the woman at risk for infection.

If you are pregnant, the urine contains more sugar and protein. The changes in its dilution and components will also put you at a higher risk for UTIs. 

And as anatomy goes, the woman’s uterus begins to expand and press on the bladder to make room for the baby. It will make it hard for the bladder to empty itself totally.

The compression leads to frequent urination and the leftover urine will likely cause the infection.

UTI in different trimesters

The urinary tract infection does not only occur as a pregnancy symptom.

It can span throughout the pregnancy and vary in every trimester.

In any case, a UTI can become serious and is one of the causes of birth risks like preterm labor when left untreated.

Early intervention and treatment are necessary to prevent it from happening. 

First trimester

According to the CDC, UTI is expected in about 7.2% of women 90 days before and during pregnancy.

It is so common in the first trimester that 41% of pregnancy UTIs recorded occur in this stage. Because of this, urinalysis is among the laboratory tests that the OB will require on the first prenatal visit.

It is the phase when a pregnancy is mistaken for a UTI as it mimics the symptoms of cramping and urinating frequency.

Second trimester

The percentage of pregnant women with a UTI decreases to half in the second trimester.

A UTI tends to reoccur anytime during the pregnancy.

Women who have had the infection before are more prone to acquiring it while pregnant. 

Third trimester

A woman in her third trimester is meeting with her Doctor via webcam to check up on the status of her UTI

By the time a woman is in her third trimester, doctors will often require a repeat urinalysis. That’s because the urinary infection is still possible at this time.

The numbers are usually halved from the number of women who have it in the second trimester. However, a UTI in the last stages of the pregnancy is more worrisome.

Past infections are likely to progress to acute kidney infections, especially in women who are not treated for it previously. 

Asymptomatic UTI

Women most likely experience symptoms of UTI, which make them want to consult a doctor to get treated.

But did you know that you may also develop the infection without experiencing anything?

This condition is known as asymptomatic bacteriuria and is detected only through urinalysis.

Only the laboratory test can detect the presence of bacteria in the urinary tract because moms can hardly feel any symptoms.

That is why a urinalysis and urine culture are important parts of prenatal care for doctors to assess the situation early in the conception. 

UTI treatment in early pregnancy

UTIs may be prevalent in pregnant women. Fortunately, it is also highly treatable.

On your first antenatal visit, the doctor will request a urine sample.

If you have a history of a UTI before the pregnancy, the doctor may require you to repeat the test.

Expect the same thing if you have the symptoms or the doctor believes you are highly likely to develop them. 

The doctor will then recommend an antibiotic that is safe for pregnancy, whether you are symptomatic or asymptomatic.

The right antibiotic depends on the infection and the type of bacteria found in the sample. It is also a different type from those prescribed to non-pregnant women. 

You can lower your risk of developing a urinary tract infection at home by drinking plenty of fluids.

Water is the most important to help flush out bacteria lingering in the urinary tract. 

Effects of UTI on the fetus

When treated early, UTI is less likely to harm the developing baby. But if it goes untreated, it can progress to kidney infection.

A kidney infection accounts for cases of preterm birth and low birth weight. 

A mom who has the infection is at a high risk of developing high blood pressure or preeclampsia. 

So, if you suspect that you are experiencing the symptoms and are pregnant, do not delay your visit to a doctor. Infections develop quickly, and early intervention can do so much to help you and your baby. 

FAQs

When should I call the doctor for a UTI during pregnancy?

Seek immediate medical help if you experience the following: fever, chills, lower stomach pain, contraction, nausea, and vomiting.

A burning sensation when urinating even after taking medicine for three days also warrants a doctor’s call.

Will a urinary tract infection affect pregnancy testing?

If you have a UTI, the urine will have a high level of red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), and nitrites. It will also have reduced acidity.

Sometimes, the home test kit will fail to measure the pregnancy hormone or hCG reliably and registers a false positive.

Takeaway

Urinary tract infection is a common occurrence in women even before pregnancy.

Some may experience the symptoms; others may not.

Some women may only learn they are pregnant after experiencing UTI symptoms.

But it is highly treatable, and when early and proper medication is given, it is unlikely to harm the baby.

Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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