Old woman clutching bowels

Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can affect different parts of your urinary tract, including your bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis) or kidneys (kidney infection). Most UTIs can be easily treated with antibiotics.

Check if it’s a urinary tract infection (UTI)

Symptoms of a UTI include:
  • needing to pee suddenly or more often than usual
  • pain or a burning sensation when peeing
  • smelly or cloudy urine
  • blood in your urine
  • pain in your lower tummy
  • feeling tired and unwell
  • in older people, changes in behaviour such as severe confusion or agitation
UTI symptoms may be difficult to spot in people with dementia.

Non-urgent advice – see a healthcare practitioner if:

  • you’re a man with symptoms of a UTI
  • you’re pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI
  • your child has symptoms of a UTI
  • you’re caring for someone elderly who may have a UTI
  • you have not had a UTI before
  • you have blood in your urine
  • your symptoms do not improve within a few days
  • your symptoms come back after treatment
If you have symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), you can also get treatment from a sexual health clinic.

Urgent advice – get advice from 111 if you have:

  • pain in your sides or lower back
  • a very high temperature or you feel hot and shivery
  • felt sick or been sick
  • diarrhoea
These symptoms suggest a kidney infection, which can be serious if it’s not treated.
111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.

What happens at your appointment?

You’ll be asked about your symptoms and may need to give a urine sample to confirm you have a UTI. A urine test helps to rule out other conditions that might be causing your symptoms. Men are sometimes offered a painless swab test to check for other conditions. This is where a cotton bud is wiped on the tip of the penis and sent for testing. It will not hurt, but may feel uncomfortable.

Treating urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Your healthcare practitioner may prescribe antibiotics to treat a UTI. Once you start treatment, the symptoms should start to clear up within 5 days in adults and 2 days in children. It’s important to finish the whole course of antibiotics, even if you start to feel better.
Some people with a severe UTI may be referred to hospital for treatment and tests. You may need to stay for a few days. Hospital treatment is more likely for men and children with a UTI.

Treating recurring UTIs

If your UTI comes back any time after treatment, you’ll usually be prescribed a longer course of antibiotics. If you keep getting UTIs and regularly need treatment, your healthcare practitioner may give you a repeat prescription for antibiotics.

Things you can do yourself

Mild urinary tract infections (UTIs) often pass within a few days. To help ease pain while your symptoms clear up:
  • take paracetamol – you can give children liquid paracetamol
  • place a hot water bottle on your tummy, back or between your thighs
  • rest and drink plenty of fluids – this helps your body to flush out the bacteria
It may also help to avoid having sex until you feel better.
You cannot pass a UTI on to your partner, but sex may be uncomfortable.

Important: Avoid taking NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin if you have a kidney infection. This may increase the risk of kidney problems.

Causes of urinary tract infections (UTIs)

UTIs are usually caused by bacteria from faeces entering the urinary tract. The bacteria enter through the tube that carries urine out of the body (urethra).
Women have a shorter urethra than men. This means bacteria are more likely to reach the bladder or kidneys and cause an infection.
Causes of UTIs include:
  • pregnancy
  • conditions that block the urinary tract – such as kidney stones
  • conditions that make it difficult to fully empty the bladder – such as an enlarged prostate gland in men and constipation in children
  • urinary catheters (a tube in your bladder used to drain urine)
  • having a weakened immune system – for example, from type 2 diabetes, chemotherapy or HIV

You cannot always prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs)

There are some things you can do to try to prevent a UTI.
Do:
  • wipe from front to back when you go to the toilet
  • try to fully empty your bladder when you pee
  • drink plenty of fluids
  • take showers instead of baths
  • wear loose cotton underwear
  • pee as soon as possible after sex
  • change your baby’s or toddler’s nappies regularly
Don’t:
  • do not use perfumed bubble bath, soap or talcum powder
  • do not hold your pee in if you feel the urge to go
  • do not wear tight, synthetic underwear, such as nylon
  • do not wear tight jeans or trousers
  • do not use condoms or diaphragms with spermicidal lube on them – try non-spermicidal lube or a different type of contraception