If you have been suffering from one urinary tract infection after another, it might be that you really don't have a UTI. You could have something called interstitial cystitis, a chronic condition that can be difficult to treat. Unfortunately, IC is often a diagnosis of elimination, meaning that you reach the IC diagnosis by eliminating other conditions that could cause the same symptoms. The condition is not really something for which you can get a blood test and find a specific marker that says, yes, this is IC. Here are circumstances to look for to help determine whether your repeated UTIs are really repeated flare-ups of IC.
The Symptoms Keep Coming Back
Urinary tract infections should go away with treatment. A UTI might come back quickly if you don't follow the treatment correctly or if it turns out you need a more specific antibiotic. However, with correct adherence to treatment instructions and the right medication, that infection should go away and not come back anymore.
If the symptoms of the infection keep coming back, though, and you've ruled out the possibilities that you need a different antibiotic, that you aren't following instructions, and that you are repeating the behaviors that brought about the first infection, then you have to look at the possibility that you have interstitial cystitis. Repeated bouts with what seems like repeated UTIs but that aren't responding normally to treatments and behavioral and medication changes do point toward IC rather than another UTI.
Tests Show Little to No Bacteria
Typically, a UTI will show up on a test with at least some bacteria. If you're having tests done, and none are finding bacteria, then there is the chance you have IC. It is possible to find a little bacteria with IC, in which case you'd have to look at factors such as the symptoms returning again and again.
Flare-Ups Last Too Long
Now, maybe you already know you have IC, but now you're having flare-ups that seem harder to control. It is possible for someone with IC to get a UTI on top of that. Take a look at how long the flare-ups are lasting; if they go on for more than a couple of days, it's time to get tested. You can also try using one of the over-the-counter tests for UTIs that are now available and contacting your doctor if the test shows positive. However, keep in mind that these home tests aren't perfect, so if you're still having a problem after the test shows negative (i.e., the flare-up still won't go away after a while), you should get tested for a UTI anyway.
UTIs and IC are frustrating, but with persistence, you can get the right diagnosis and find the right treatments. Talk to your doctor about the entire course of your symptoms and whether IC might be a possibility.