Urinary tract infection (UTI)

infection in any part of the urinary system

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) such as cystitis are very common. They’re not usually serious, but they can cause more problems for some people. Our experts can help with the diagnosis and treatment of UTIs.

What is a UTI?

A UTI is an infection of part of your urinary system. This includes infection of your bladder (cystitis) and your kidneys (pyelonephritis).

UTIs are very common and are often part of other lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). Anyone can get one including men, women and children.

UTIs are much more common in women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB), as they  have a shorter urethra than men. Around 50–60%  women will develop UTIs in their lifetimes, these urinary tract infections aren’t usually serious and may pass by themselves within a few days. They can be more serious if they spread to your kidneys or if they happen during pregnancy. They’re also more serious in people who have a suppressed (weakened) immune system.

UTIs in men tend to be more complicated and harder to treat.

What causes UTIs?

UTIs are caused by bacteria entering your urinary tract. The most common way for this to happen is by bacteria spreading from your anus (bottom) to your urethra – the tube that carries urine out of your body. The bacteria then spread up your urethra to cause an infection in your bladder, and sometimes, your kidneys.

Bacteria can also enter your urinary tract via a catheter (a tube to drain urine from your bladder) or if you have surgery involving your bladder. Bacteria can also spread to your urinary tract via your bloodstream. This is more likely in people who have a weakened immune system.

The following are all risk factors for UTIs:

  • Conditions that affect your urinary tract
  • Having an enlarged prostate gland, which means you can’t fully empty your bladder
  • Having a catheter
  • Recent surgery or procedures on your bladder or urinary tract
  • Using antibiotics
  • Having sex – having a new or multiple partners increases risk further
  • Using spermicide
  • Having diabetes
  • Being pregnant
  • Having a weakened immune system. This may be due to a medical condition or taking certain medications
  • Having a family history of UTIs

Symptoms of UTIs

UTI symptoms can depend on which part of your urinary tract is affected. Cystitis is infection of your bladder. Cystitis symptoms can include:

  • A sudden urge to pass urine
  • Needing to pass urine more often than normal, including at night
  • Pain, discomfort, burning or a stinging sensation when you pass urine
  • Urine appearing cloudy or having a bad smell
  • Blood in your urine
  • Pain or discomfort in your lower abdomen

Feeling confused and generally unwell can be signs of a UTI in older women.

UTIs can sometimes spread to the kidneys. Symptoms of a UTI that’s spread to the kidneys may include:

  • Pain or tenderness in your back
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Fever of 37.9°C or above
  • Shivering and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling generally unwell

How are UTIs diagnosed?

A GP can usually make a UTI diagnosis. The GP will talk to you about your symptoms and medical history. They will usually ask you to give a urine sample. This is to look for the presence of chemicals or blood in the urine, which can be signs of a UTI. They may also send the sample to be tested to check which bacteria have caused the infection.

Your GP may refer you to one of our specialists for further investigation. This is more likely if you have a complicated or recurrent infection. Further tests may include

UTI treatment

Cystitis treatment

If you have an uncomplicated UTI, like cystitis, your GP will give you some advice on managing your symptoms. This may include taking painkillers and making sure you’re drinking enough fluids to avoid dehydration. our symptoms may clear up on their own within around 5 days.

Your GP may also prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics for UTIs include nitrofurantoin and trimethoprim. You usually take these for around 3 days. Sometimes your GP may give you a delayed or ‘back-up’ prescription, to use if your symptoms get worse or don’t improve within 48 hours.


Treatment for complicated UTIs

If you have a kidney infection or other complicated UTI, you may be offered different types of antibiotic, such as ciprofloxacin. You’ll also need to take antibiotics for longer – usually 1 to 2 weeks.

If you experience a severe or recurring UTI, your GP may refer you to one of our consultant urologists.

How to prevent UTIs

There are several measures often suggested for helping to prevent UTIs. These include:

  • Wiping from front to back after passing faeces (poo)
  • Avoiding douching
  • Not wearing tight-fitting underwear
  • Avoiding delaying passing urine, including after sex
  • Making sure you drink enough fluids

There isn’t any evidence to say that these measures do work. But if you keep getting UTIs, it may be worth giving them a try.

Cranberry juice has traditionally been advised as helping to prevent or treat UTIs. But there is also little evidence to support this. Again, if you get recurrent UTIs, you may wish to give it a try.

FAQs about urinary tract infections

  • How do you get a urinary tract infection? icon plus

    You can get a urinary tract infection (UTI) if bacteria enter your urinary tract. Usually, this is by bacteria spreading from your anus to your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body). You can also get bacteria into your urinary tract through a catheter, through having surgery, or less frequently, via your bloodstream.

  • Is cranberry juice good for UTIs? icon plus

    Cranberry juice and other cranberry products are widely used for treating and preventing UTIs.14 But the benefits are uncertain – there is only very low-quality evidence that they can help. Because of this, they aren’t generally recommended for UTIs. But if you get recurrent UTIs, it’s something you may wish to try.

  • Can men get UTIs? icon plus

    Yes, anyone can get a UTI. They are much more common in women.3 But men can get them too. Men are at increased risk if they have a catheter, or have had surgery or procedures involving the bladder or urinary tract. Having an enlarged prostate gland can also increase risk of a UTI in men, as it means you can’t fully empty your bladder.

  • Is cystitis a UTI? icon plus

    Yes, cystitis is a type of UTI that causes infection in your bladder. It means bacteria have spread up from your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body), into your bladder. If the bacteria travel further up into your urinary system, it can infect your kidneys.

  • What causes cystitis? icon plus

    You can get cystitis if bacteria spread from your anus to your urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body), and into your bladder. It’s common in women as it’s easy for bacteria to spread between these areas. Certain things can make cystitis more likely. These include sexual intercourse, using spermicides and taking antibiotics.

Our urologists

Our leading urology consultants are experienced in treating both men and women, and are specialists across a range of urology conditions including overactive bladder, interstitial cystitis, urinary incontinence, postpartum urinary incontinence, prostate conditions such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and pelvic organ prolapse.

Our locations

From complex prostate surgery to diagnostic tests and minor procedures, we provide exceptional urology care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

Book an appointment

Our team can help with any enquiries or you can make an appointment with one of our experienced consultants.

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020 7079 4344
This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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