Urinary tract infections in adults

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common. Most UTIs are caused by bacteria and they can be painful and uncomfortable. But they usually pass within a few days or can be easily treated with a course of antibiotics. UTIs are more common in women than men.

Symptoms of urinary tract infections 

The symptoms of an infection in your upper urinary tract (kidney and ureters) are different from symptoms of infection in your lower urinary tract (bladder and urethra).

However, in some cases you may notice the symptoms of both, as one can spread to the other.

Symptoms of a UTI are similar to those of many other conditions and don't necessarily mean you have an infection.

Lower urinary tract infection

Symptoms of a lower UTI can include:

  • feeling a strong urge to urinate (pee) and more often than usual, a constant, dull pain in the pubic region and pain when urinating (dysuria)
  • cloudy urine (pee) or blood in your urine (haematuria)
  • urine that smells unusually unpleasant
  • back pain
  • a general sense of feeling unwell

Upper urinary tract infection

Symptoms of an upper UTI can include:

  • pain and discomfort in your side, lower back or around your genitals
  • a high temperature (it may reach 39.5C or 103.1F)
  • shivering or chills
  • feeling very weak or tired
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling sick or being sick
  • diarrhoea

Treating urinary tract infections 

Your recommended treatment plan by your GP will depend on whether your infection is in the upper or lower urinary tract.

Both types of urinary tract infection can usually be treated at home using a course of antibiotics.

If an upper UTI is more serious or there is increased risk of complications, you may need hospital treatment.

When to seek medical advice

You may find your UTI symptoms are mild and pass within a few days. However, you should see your GP if you find your symptoms very uncomfortable or if they last for more than five days.

Also see your GP if you have a UTI and:

  • you develop a high temperature (it may reach 39.5C or 103.1F)
  • your symptoms suddenly get worse
  • you are pregnant
  • you have diabetes

About the urinary tract

The urinary tract is where our bodies make and get rid of urine. It's made up of:

  • the kidneys – two bean-shaped organs, about the size of your fists, that make urine out of waste materials from the blood
  • the ureters – tubes that run from the kidney to the bladder
  • the bladder – where urine is stored until we go to the toilet
  • the urethra – the tube from the bladder through which urine leaves the body

Causes of urinary tract infections

Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria that live in the digestive system.

If these bacteria get into the urethra (the tube where urine comes out), they can cause infection. It's thought the bacteria can spread from the skin around the anus to the urethra.

Women are more likely to develop a UTI than men. This is because a woman's urethra is located closer to the anus than a man's, which makes it easier for bacteria from the anus to reach the urethra.

Preventing urinary tract infection 

You can reduce your chances of developing a UTI by keeping your bladder and urethra (the tube that allows urine to pass out of your body) free from bacteria.

You can help prevent an infection by:

  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • keeping your genitals clean
  • treating any constipation

Toilet tips

To help keep your urinary tract free from bacteria:

  • go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need to urinate (to pee), rather than holding it in
  • wipe from front to back after going to the toilet
  • practice good hygiene by washing your genitals every day and before having sex
  • empty your bladder after having sex
  • if you're a woman, avoid ‘hovering’ over a toilet seat as it can result in your bladder not being fully emptied

Diaphragms and condoms

If you use a diaphragm and have recurring UTIs, you might want to consider changing to another method of contraception. This is because the diaphragm may press on your bladder and prevent it emptying completely when you urinate.

If you get recurring UTIs and you use condoms, try using condoms that don't have a spermicidal lubricant on them – it will say whether it does on the packet.

Spermicidal lubricant can cause irritation and may make it more likely that you'll experience symptoms similar to a UTI.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

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