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.
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).
What causes urinary infection?
Most urine infections occur when bacteria enter your bladder through your urethra (waterpipe);
Risk factors include:
- sexual intercourse
- passing urine infrequently
- incomplete bladder emptying
- poorly-draining or mis-shapen kidneys
Most urine infections are caused by a bacterium called E coli (illustrated right). Other types of bacteria may be responsible, and the type of organism can sometimes give a pointer to the underlying problem (e.g. kidney or bladder stones may be associated with a bacterium called Proteus).
How will I know if I have an urinary infection?
Symptoms can vary from very mild to severe, depending on whether the infection is confined to your bladder (cystitis) or has affected your kidney(s) as well (pyelonephritis):
|Symptoms of bladder infection|
|Symptoms of kidney infection|
Passing urine frequently
Urgency (a pressing need to pass urine)
Pain in your lower abdomen (tummy)
Pain in your urethra (waterpipe)
Shaking (rigors) and chills
Pain in your flank (kidney area)(± symptoms of bladder infection)
If you feel you have symptoms of pyelonephritis please seek urgent advice.
How will my urinary infection be confirmed?
The simplest and most important test is analysis of a sample of your urine; this can normally be done at your GP surgery using a special “dipstick” technique. The stick test also looks for other abnormalities in your urine (e.g. protein, sugar, bilirubin).
A more thorough microbiological test, called “microscopy, culture and sensitivity (MC&S)”, is sometimes performed; this requires a mid-stream sample of your urine to be collected into a sterile container, usually at your GP surgery.
How can I prevent infections in the future?
There are some self-help measures you can do to help reduce your chance of getting an urinary infection;:
- wiping from front to back when you go to the toilet;
- not holding your urine in too long – pass urine when you need to go;
- passing urine after sex to flush out any bacteria; and
- drinking enough fluids so you don’t get dehydrated.
If these don’t help, you may also want to try:
- D-mannose – this is an alternative therapy (and a kind of sugar) that you can buy over the counter at health food stores or via the internet. Small studies have shown that taking two grams each day can help prevent urine infection to a similar degree as low-dose antibiotics, but more evidence is needed; or
- cranberry products – although there is little evidence that they are helpful
If these things don’t help or are not suitable for you, you may want to think about speaking to your GP who may consider an antibiotic.
Women can access self help advice by accessing the following website
Further information can also be found on the NHS webpage
Please speak to our Pharmacist if you feel you have UTI symptoms, you normally can get immediate advice straight away without having to wait for an appointment.
Blog updated 23/09/2022