Are you concerned about a UTI? WUKA experts discuss all urinary tract infection symptoms and treatments to help you flag the early signs of a UTI.
What is a UTI?
A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), sometimes known as a bladder infection, is a common condition, affecting up to one in five women at some point in their lives.
The urinary tract refers to your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra:
- The kidneys work to filter out waste from your blood, and balance fluids in the body, producing urine as a result.
- The ureters are thin tubes of muscle that connect the kidneys to the bladder and transport the urine to the bladder.
- The bladder is a hollow, muscular, circular organ that expands as it fills up with urine, and its located in the pelvis. The bladder can hold up to 500ml of urine.
- The urethra is a tube that sits at the bottom of the bladder, allowing urine to flow from the body when you pee.
Although the urinary system is designed to keep bacteria out, sometimes this fails, and bacteria does enter the urethra. Occasionally this can lead to an infection, and this infection can affect either the bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis) or the kidneys (kidney infection).
UTIs tend to affect women more than men, and some women can experience them regularly. If you do suffer with recurrent UTIs, you’re not alone- around 25-35% of patients with a UTI experience a recurrences according to this report.
What causes a UTI?
Infections found in the urethra are most commonly caused by bacteria from poo entering the urinary tract. This can happen when you use the loo and wipe from the anus to the vagina, using the same piece of tissue. Always wipe front to back!
Infections found in the bladder are often caused by E.Coli, a type of bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract. Sexual intercourse can sometimes cause an urinary infection as the urethra, vulva, vagina, and anus are close together.
The NHS also advises that because women have a shorter urethra than men, bacteria are more likely to reach the urinary tract to cause an infection. This is why more women tend to experience UTIs, and why they can recur too.
There are certain things that can increase the risk of developing a UTI. These include:
- Sexual intercourse- you can prevent infections recurring by avoiding using condoms with spermicides
- Pregnancy- changes in hormones can sometimes cause an infection in the kidneys
- Kidney stones- this condition can cause a blockage in the urinary tract which can lead to n infection
- Failing to empty your bladder when you use the loo- always try to empty your bladder fully. Pelvic floor exercises can help with this.
- Dehydration- not drinking enough water can lead to you needing to pee less often, and this can lead to a UTI, as evidenced in this study.
- Poor hygiene habits- its imperative to keep the genital area clean to prevent infections- but don’t be tempted to use perfumed soap or shower gel, and no douching (cleaning inside your vagina).
What are the signs and symptoms of a UTI?
In women, the two most common types of urinary infections occur in the bladder and the urethra.
Signs of a Bladder Infection (Cystitis)
- Pelvic pressure/pain around the pelvis and pubic bone
- Lower abdomen pain
- Frequent urination
- Painful urination
- Blood in urine - may be the colour red, pink, or the shade of cola
Signs of an Urethra infection (urethritis)
- Burning feeling when urinating
Other signs of a UTI
- Smelly urine
- Cloudy urine
- Felling tired and unwell
How is a UTI diagnosed?
It can be a simple process to test for a urinary infection. Some pharmacies sell tests kits that you can use at home to see if you have a UTI. These are easy to use- just dip the stick into a urine sample. You will still need to speak to the pharmacist about your symptoms so that they can make sure the test is required. They may also advise you to see a doctor too.
The doctor will most likely ask you questions such as:
- How often are you urinating?
- Does it hurt to pee?
- Do you have any pain in your tummy?
- Does your urine smell?
- Is your wee cloudy?
Your doctor is also likely to ask you to take a urine test. You’ll be asked to wee into a pot and the doctor will use a dipstick to see if it shows any white, red, or bacteria that may indicate an infection. Your urine may also be sent off for further tests.
How do you treat a UTI?
It is possible to treat a UTI yourself- mild infections may pass within a day or two and you may not need to take antibiotics. There are some things you can do at home to self-treat a mild infection in the first couple of days:
- Take paracetamol
- Use a hot water bottle on your tummy, between your thighs, or on your back
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink fluids
- Avoid sex as it may be uncomfortable
If your symptoms are not going away, you can see blood in your urine, you are pregnant, or you feel any worse, it’s important to seek medical advice straight away.
Natural remedies to treat a UTI
The jury’s out as to whether natural remedies help a UTI, but you might want to give some of them a try:
- Drink plenty of water
- Increase your vitamin C intake
- Drink unsweetened cranberry juice
- Take a probiotic
The NHS suggests that the supplement D-mannose and cranberry juice or tablets, may help to soothe a UTI. However, there is limited research to evidence that they help and some research has gone as far as contradicting this advice.
Here are some other supplements that you may wish to try:
- Bearberry leaf: Also known as uva-ursi. One study showed that a combination of bearberry leaf, dandelion root, and dandelion leaf decreased UTI recurrence
- Cranberry extract: Like cranberry juice, cranberry extract works by preventing bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract.
- Garlic extract has been shown to have antimicrobial properties and may be able to block the growth of bacteria to prevent UTIs.
Remember to always seek the advice of your doctor before taking new medication.
Medical treatments for a UTI
Your doctor will likely prescribe you antibiotics to treat the infection. If the doctor believes it’s necessary, they can prescribe pain medication to help relieve the burning sensation when peeing.
However, if your infection is severe, or it keeps returning, there may be other options that your doctor will consider, such as:
- A longer course of antibiotics
- A stay in hospital
- An ultrasound
- A cystoscopy
- An MRI scan
Avoiding drinks that irritate you during this time may help, such as:
- Fizzy drinks
- Citrus juices
How to prevent a UTI
Here are some things you can do to prevent a UTI from occurring:
- Wipe front to back after a wee or a poo
- Try to empty your bladder completely
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Have showers instead of baths
- Wear loose cotton underwear
- Pee after sex
- Use non-spermicidal lube
There are some things to avoid to prevent you from getting a UTI. Do not:
- Use perfumed bubble bath, soap, or talcum powder
- Hold your urine
- Wear tight clothing or synthetic underwear, such as nylon
- Wear tight jeans or trousers
- Use diaphragms or spermicide lubricants
How do I check myself for a UTI?
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a UTI, you can buy a test kit to use at home, but speak to the pharmacist first about your symptoms. They might advise you to make an appointment with your doctor too.
Can a UTI go away on its own?
Many UTIs are mild, and some will go away by themselves without antibiotics. Drink plenty of water and try vitamin C, cranberry juice and probiotics to self-treat at home. If your symptoms persist, the infection doesn’t clear, or you start to feel worse, make an appointment with your doctor straight away.
What does the beginning of a UTI feel like?
Most people with a UTI will first experience a burning sensation when they pee, along with feeling like they need to use the loo more than usual. If you experience these symptoms, you could have a UTI, so take a test as soon as you can to avoid the symptoms worsening.
What are the three symptoms of a UTI?
The main three symptoms of a UTI include:
- Burning sensation when peeing
- Needing to pee more often than usually, and often the feeling does’t go away after you’ve used the loo
- Strong smelling, cloudy urine, sometimes with blood