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What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

Urinary tract infections, which are often referred to as UTIs, are pretty common and can affect anyone, although women are more prone to them.

A UTI is usually caused when bacteria gets into your urinary tract through your urethra (which is the tube that your urine comes out of when you go to the toilet), which causes an infection.

There are different types of infections that the term ‘UTI’ is used to describe, these include:

  • Cystitis -  an infection of your bladder
  • Urethritis - an infection of your urethra
  • Pyelonephritis - an infection of your kidneys

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

There are many different symptoms you can experience with a UTI, but that does not mean you have to have them all to get a diagnosis and treatment from a GP.

Common ones include:

  • A stinging sensation or pain when urinating
  • Needing to pass urine more often than usual
  • Passing small amounts of urine frequently
  • A feeling of not being able to empty your bladder fully
  • Pain in your pelvis
  • A high temperature
  • Strong smelling urine
  • Having a sudden urge to pass urine
  • Urine that is cloudy in colour
  • Urine that is red, brown or bright pink - this indicates blood in your urine
  • Feeling tired, achy or unwell
  • Confusion (in elderly people)

If you have pain near your kidneys, on your back and sides, as well as a high fever, chills, nausea or vomiting, it could be a sign of a kidney infection. You should see a GP as soon as possible if you have these symptoms, as a kidney infection can be dangerous if left untreated.

UTI symptoms in men

UTIs in men are relatively uncommon if you are under the age of 50. However, one type of UTI, urethritis, is more common in men than women, so it’s important to get checked out by a GP.

Symptoms of UTIs in men to look out for include:

  • Pain or a burning sensation when urinating
  • Needing to pass urine more often than usual
  • Pain in your lower tummy
  • Strong smelling urine
  • Urine that is cloudy in colour
  • Urine that is red, brown or bright pink - this indicates blood in your urine

If the infection is in your kidneys, you may also have pain near them, on your lower back and sides. You may also have a high temperature, which can cause you to feel nauseous or be sick.

See a GP if you think you have a UTI.

UTI symptoms in children

If you think your child has a UTI, look out for the common UTI symptoms, which include:

  • A stinging sensation or pain when urinating
  • Needing to pass urine more often than usual
  • Having a sudden urge to empty their bladder
  • Passing small amounts of urine frequently
  • A feeling of not being able to empty their bladder fully
  • Strong smelling urine
  • Urine that is cloudy in colour
  • Urine that is red, brown or bright pink - this indicates blood in your urine
  • Feeling tired, achy or generally unwell
  • Pain in your lower tummy
  • A high temperature
  • Bed wetting or wetting themselves
  • Holding in their urine, as it's too painful to pass

Babies may be more irritable than usual, have a high temperature of 37.5C or above and they may not be feeding as well as usual.

Getting a UTI diagnosis

If you think that you have a UTI, it is a good idea to see a GP or visit a sexual health clinic.

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, including questions such as whether you are experiencing pain when you go to the toilet. It’s really important that you answer these questions honestly, so that our doctor can prescribe you the most effective treatment, if necessary.

Anything you say during your consultation will remain completely confidential.

It’s particularly important to see a GP if you:

  • are pregnant
  • are male
  • think your child, or someone elderly you're caring for has a UTI
  • notice your urine is red, brown or light pink in colour, as this is a sign of blood
  • have recurrent infections, despite treatment

Some women can experience recurrent infections - be sure to mention this to a GP if this is the case.

A UTI can sometimes cause an infection in the kidneys. This can be serious and cause permanent damage to your kidneys if not treated. Speak to a doctor urgently if you:

  • have pain near your kidneys - on your back, side or groin area
  • have nausea or vomiting
  • have a fever

How UTIs are treated

Once a diagnosis is made, our doctors can recommend the most suitable treatment for your UTI.

They will need to assess whether your symptoms are acute or chronic. An acute UTI means your symptoms have come on suddenly and unexpectedly. However, some women suffer from chronic infections, where symptoms repeatedly return, even after treatment.

Antibiotics

The most common treatment for a UTI is antibiotics. In the majority of cases, this should clear the infection up within 3 days. 

In some cases, the doctor may want to conduct further tests, in order to identify the bacteria in your urine and prescribe an effective antibiotic to get rid of it.

If you are prescribed antibiotics, it is really important to complete the course they give you, even if you start to feel better. Not doing so could mean the infection is not properly treated, and your symptoms could reappear.

If you experience recurring UTIs, if you are a man or if you are pregnant, you may be prescribed a longer course of antibiotics.

Recurring UTIs

If you have chronic UTIs, you may have been treated with a specific antibiotic in the past.

However, it’s important to remember that bacteria can build up a resistance to an antibiotic over time. This means that there is no guarantee the antibiotics you were prescribed last time will be effective every time.

Our doctors may still want to test your urine in case your infection was caused by a different type of bacteria.

Over the counter pain medication

You can also take over the counter pain medication, such as paracetamol to help relieve any pain you may have.

If you have a kidney infection, avoid NSAIDs, which include ibuprofen and aspirin, as these can increase your risk of kidney problems.

In severe cases of UTIs, you may be sent to hospital for treatment and further testing. This is more likely if you are a man or child.

If your symptoms return soon after treatment, or do not improve after treatment, see a GP again for further advice.

Things you can do at home to help a UTI

There are some things you can do to help ease the symptoms as you recover from a UTI. These include:

  • using over the counter pain medication - for a child, use medication that is designed for children and follow the dosage on the packaging correctly
  • getting plenty of rest
  • drinking plenty of fluids to help your body flush out the bacteria
  • avoiding drinks that can aggravate your bladder, such as coffee, alcohol or citrus based drinks
  • using a hot water bottle on your stomach or back to help soothe pain
  • avoiding having sex until you have recovered

 

Common home remedies that won’t work

UTIs are a condition that attracts a variety of ‘cures’ you can try at home. However, many of them don’t offer a solution to the problem at all!

 

Cranberry juice

This is the most well known piece of advice associated with UTIs. Sadly though, plenty of studies have shown that the effect of cranberry juice on treating or preventing infections is actually very small.

There is a small amount of evidence it can help but it shouldn’t be used as a treatment. It won’t do any harm, but it’s not enough to be effective on its own, so don’t use it as an alternative to seeing a doctor!

Baking soda

The idea behind this is to change the acidity in your urinary tract, to discourage bacteria from spreading.

However, again, there is not actually any evidence that suggests this actually works.

Apple cider vinegar

Used for the same reasons as baking soda, apple cider vinegar can actually make a UTI worse.

While you are welcome to try it as a form of prevention, once the infection sets in, an acidic vinegar is that last thing you want coming into contact with the irritated lining of your urinary tract.

Causes of a UTI

UTIs are caused by bacteria, usually from your poo, infecting your urinary tract. The bacteria gets into your body through the urethra (which is the tube that your urine comes out of when you go to the toilet), where it can then multiply and spread.

A woman’s urethra is shorter than a man’s and very close to the anus, which is why they are more prone to getting UTIs. The bacteria does not have as far to travel to reach the bladder or kidneys.

Some people may be more likely to get a UTI than others. This includes if you:

  • are pregnant
  • are older
  • are sexually active or have a new sexual partner
  • use certain methods of birth control - a contraceptive diaphragm or spermicidal agents can lead to infections
  • have previously had a UTI
  • have a condition that mean you can not fully empty your bladder, such as an enlarged prostate in men or kidney stones
  • have a weakened immune system caused by a condition such as diabetes or treatment such as chemotherapy
  • have been through the menopause
  • use a catheter
  • were born with an abnormal urinary tract

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