At some point in your life you may get a urinary tract infection (UTI), especially if you’re a woman – because lucky us, we get them most frequently.
In most cases, UTIs are nothing to worry about, but recognising the signs early can help you access medication and save a lot of painful trips to the loo.
Here’s everything you need to know about them and how they’re treated.
What Is A UTI – And Is It Different From Cystitis?
The phrases ‘UTI’ and ‘cystitis’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but cystitis is actually a type of UTI, explains Dr Kenny Livingstone, an NHS GP and founder of home-visiting service ZoomDoc.
“A urinary tract infection is an infection which can occur in any part of the urinary system,” he says. “This can include the bladder (also known as cystitis), urethra (also know as urethritis) or the kidneys (kidney infection).”
Women are more susceptible to UTIs as their urethra – the tube that carries urine out of the body – is shorter than men’s, therefore bacteria can reach the urinary system more easily. UTIs are usually caused by bacteria from poo entering the urinary tract.
“Infections of the bladder and urethra are classed as lower UTIs, and infections of the kidneys or ureters (the tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder) are classed as upper UTIs,” Dr Livingstone explains.
Lower UTIs are more common, he says, and although they can be painful and uncomfortable, they aren’t usually a cause for concern. “They can cause some discomfort and people may feel unwell enough that they may need to take some time off work,” he adds.
Upper UTIs can be serious if left untreated as the infection may damage the kidneys or spread to the bloodstream.
What Are The Symptoms Of A UTI?
The main symptoms of lower UTIs, according to Dr Livingstone, include:
Needing to pee suddenly or more often than usual
Pain or a burning sensation when peeing
Smelly or cloudy urine
Blood in the urine
Pain in your lower tummy
Feeling tired and unwell
In older people, changes in behaviour such as severe confusion or agitation.
Upper UTIs may also have additional symptoms, such as:
A high temperature of 38C (100.4ºF) or above
Pain in your sides or back
Shivering and chills
Feeling and being sick
Agitation or restlessness.
How Are UTIs Treated?
Mild UTIs often pass by themselves, but the NHS recommends: taking paracetamol, using a hot water bottle to ease the pain, drinking plenty of fluids to “flush out” the bacteria, and avoiding sex. You can’t pass a UTI onto your partner, but sex may be uncomfortable.
For persistent or more severe UTIs you may need to take antibiotics, which your doctor can prescribe.
The NHS advises you should definitely see your doctor if:
You’re a man with symptoms of a UTI
You’re pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI
Your child has symptoms of a UTI
You’re caring for someone elderly who may have a UTI
You have blood in your urine
Your symptoms do not improve within a few days
Your symptoms come back after treatment.
If you don’t want the hassle of arranging a doctor’s appointment, you can now purchase UTI antibiotics via online prescription services like Superdrug’s Online Doctor Service – but they don’t come cheap.
Patients can access medication after completing an online questionnaire, which allows Superdrug’s doctors to assess if the treatment is suitable for their symptoms or not. After the questionnaire is completed and if appropriate, the patient may purchase the antibiotics, starting at £25, to be delivered to them next day or click and collect in store.