Diagnosis and Treatment for Urinary Tract Infections
What is a UTI?
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are usually caused by bacteria (most UTIs are caused by E. coli bacteria) entering into the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder, out of the body) and multiplying in the urinary tract. A UTI may be referred to by a specific name depending on where the infection is in your urinary tract, for example:
- Your bladder (cystitis)
- Urethra (urethritis)
- Kidneys (kidney infection, pyelonephritis)
A UTI may be mild and eventually, symptoms may clear it up with fluids plus painkillers. Likewise, a UTI can also quickly develop from mild to severe symptoms and can move from the lower urinary tract (cystitis) to cause more serious infections in the upper urinary tract (kidneys).
If you think you might have a urinary tract infection, it’s important to speak with a qualified GP or health professional.
Who can get a UTI?
Both men and women can get urinary tract infections, however, it’s far more common in women as they have a shorter urethra (the opening to the urinary tract), making it easier for bacteria to travel into the urinary tract. The urethra is also located closer to the rectum where E. coli bacteria is present.
Over 50% of all women will experience at least one UTI during the course of their lifetime, with 20-30% experiencing recurrent UTIs.
Several risk factors have been associated with increased frequency of UTIs such as older age, spinal cord injuries, diabetes mellitus, kidney disease and pregnancy, among others.
Symptoms of a UTI
Symptoms of a UTI can range from feeling mildly uncomfortable to very painful. It is also possible for symptoms to appear and escalate very quickly.
Symptoms can depend on age, gender and the area of the urinary tract that has been infected.
Some of the most common symptoms are:
- A frequent, urgent need to urinate (even if little urine is being passed). Sometimes even at night.
- A feeling that the bladder is full, even if it’s just been emptied
- A burning, stinging or painful sensation when passing urine
- Cloudy, bloody or strong-smelling urine
- Abdominal pains or aches
- An ache in the lower back
If the infection spreads to the kidneys, symptoms can include:
- A dull ache in or around the kidney area (middle back)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shaking and chills
Treatment for UTIs
Although UTIs can be extremely uncomfortable, most can be easily treated with over the counter medicines or antibiotics.
The adequate treatment for each individual will ultimately depend on symptoms, risk factors and medical history.
Uncomplicated UTIs that occur usually in healthy individuals could be cured within 2-3 days. Complicated UTIs that occur in relation to other conditions such as pregnancy, surgery or underlying medical problems such as diabetes mellitus, immunosuppression, etc may require a longer treatment time.
Diagnosing a UTI
Your GP can diagnose a UTI in several ways depending on your symptoms.
After booking a face-to-face or online appointment with a trusted GP, you can discuss your symptoms and your GP may be able to prescribe you the right treatment immediately.
If your GP thinks further testing is required to determine the cause of your symptoms, they may ask you to provide a urine sample for analysis.
Recurrent UTI infections
If you’re experiencing recurrent or chronic UTI infections (more than 3 over a 12 month period) there may be other contributing health issues. It could also be that you may need a longer course of antibiotic treatment.
There are different treatments that can be prescribed for this. A GP will be able to help you find the right treatment for you after a consultation.
To book an online consultation with a GP, click here.
Tips to avoid UTI’s
If you’re especially prone to UTI’s it’s worth taking some simple steps to help avoid infections. Some tips you can try are:
Drink plenty of water (at least six to eight glasses of fluid per day)
Wear loose-fitting clothing and breathable underwear
Wearing loose-fitting clothing that doesn’t irritate or press against your groin area, and allows air to circulate.
Bacteria thrive in warm, damp environments so materials such as polyester that keep moisture locked in can increase your risk of getting a UTI infection. Natural materials like cotton and merino are breathable, which helps keep your groin area ventilated.
Urinate before/after sex
Having sex can make it easier for bacteria like E. coli to enter into your urethra and bladder. Urinating before and after sex can reduce the risk of UTI.
Wipe from front to back
After you’ve been to the bathroom to urinate or defecate, wipe from front to back. This helps to prevent bacteria from getting into the urinary tract. UTIs are usually caused by bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract
Empty your bladder fully
When you urinate, ensure your bladder is fully emptied, relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. Likewise, if you need to urinate, don’t hold it in for too long. The longer urine stays in the bladder, the more time bacteria have to grow.
Avoid perfumed wash products
Intimate vaginal douche, hygiene sprays, bath gels can irritate the sensitive skin in and around your urethra which can increase your chance of getting a UTI. Try using unscented products and warm water to wash sensitive areas around your groin.
Shower instead of bathing
Sitting in bathwater can make it easier for any bacteria on your body to find its way to your urinary tract. If you prefer bathing, try showering first and limit bathing time to 30 minutes.
Watch what you eat and drink
Avoid excess alcohol and caffeine as these are diuretics that can irritate the bladder and lead to dehydration, making UTI’s worse. Likewise, avoid eating too much sugar as this can feed the bacteria that cause UTI infections.
Tips to ease symptoms of a UTI
These tips may not cure symptoms but they can help you feel more comfortable before and during treatment.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Place a hot water bottle between your legs or/and on your abdomen or lower back*
- You may want to try over the counter cystitis relief medication*
*It’s always best to seek medical advice from your doctor.
Book an appointment with a GP today
If you think you may have a UTI, book an appointment with a GP today. We can conduct your appointment via a video call or face-to-face, depending on what suits you.
We are also able to issue same-day prescriptions which you can pick up at your closest available pharmacy. Or, you can choose to have your medication delivered straight to your door.
Article written by Dr Yusianmar Mariani, General Practitioner
Published: April 2020
Review date: April 2023