Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the second most common kind of infection (after chest infections). The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, ureters (the tubes from the kidneys to the bladder), the bladder and the urethra (the tube which expels urine from the bladder). It is the system by which urine is created and passed out of the body.

Normal urine is sterile. The most common cause of a UTI is when bacteria from the rectal passage enter the urinary tract, usually through the urethra. This happens more often in women because a woman's urethra opening is closer to the anus than in men. Around 50% of all women develop a UTI at some stage. In men, cystitis is often associated with infection and inflammation of the prostate gland (prostatitis).

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Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) symptoms

Once the infection is in the urethra, it can move up to the bladder (cystitis). If it is not treated quickly, the infection can continue up the ureters to the kidneys. Bacteria can also enter the kidneys through the bloodstream. An infection of the kidneys is a serious condition that can lead to damage and scarring of the kidneys. This condition is known as pyelonephritis.

Another source of infection is via catheters. Catheters are tubes that are inserted into the urethra, for example to manage incontinence. Despite precautions, inserting a catheter can introduce bacteria into the urethra and lead to infection.

Most people with a UTI will experience some of the following symptoms, although not everyone has the same symptoms:

  • A need to pass urine more often.
  • Pain or burning sensation on passing urine.
  • General feeling of being unwell, tired, weak and lethargic.
  • In women, an uncomfortable pressure above the pubic bone.
  • In men, a sensation of fullness in the rectum.
  • Despite going to the toilet more often, only a small amount of urine is passed each time.
  • Cloudy or reddish urine if blood is present.
  • If the infection has reached the kidneys, other symptoms could include fever, pain in the back or side below the ribs, nausea or vomiting.

In children, symptoms can be more easily overlooked. If the child seems irritable, is not eating normally, has a fever that does not go away or has incontinence, he or she should be seen by a doctor.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) diagnosis

First, a doctor will note your symptoms, followed by one or all of these tests:

Urinalysis

  • Tests your urine for pus and bacteria.
  • Laboratory tests determine the type of bacteria present. Your doctor can then choose the best antibiotic to deal with that bacteria.

Ultrasound scan

  • A small device that produces sound waves is passed over your abdomen to create a computerised image.
  • This can show if there is an underlying cause for your symptoms, such as a cyst or tumour.

Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)

  • A harmless dye is injected into your bloodstream, usually through a vein in your arm. The dye collects in your kidney, ureters and bladder and shows up on X-ray, enabling the doctor to spot any abnormalities in these organs

Cystoscopythis

  • A thin tube-like camera is inserted into the urethra to allow the doctor to see the inside of your bladder

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) treatment

UTIs are treated with antibiotics. There are many different types of antibiotics to treat infections. Once your urine has been analysed, the doctor can choose the best antibiotic for destroying the particular bacteria you have.

If the infection is simple and there is no obstruction, a UTI can be cured within 1 to 2 days of treatment. However, most doctors ask you to take your antibiotics for at least a week to make sure that the infection is completely cured. It is important to finish your course of antibiotics, because sometimes your symptoms may go away before the infection is fully cleared.

If you are severely ill with a kidney infection, you may be hospitalised until you can take in fluids and drugs on your own. If you have a kidney infection you will usually be on antibiotics for several weeks. To ease the pain, many people find a warm bath or a hot water bottle useful. Drink plenty of water to wash out the bacteria, and avoid coffee, alcohol and spicy foods.

Need more information?

If you have specific concerns about the symptoms and treatment options for UTIs, speak to your GP. You can also find useful websites via our links section.

Kidney

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Bladder

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Prostate

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Male reproductive organs

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