Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)


A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria infect the urinary system. The infection most commonly involves the bladder (termed ‘cystitis’), but in complicated cases, may also spread to involve the kidneys (termed ‘pyelonephritis’). It is usually not a sexually transmitted infection.  


Most UTIs develop after bacteria from the gut or genital skin spread to the urethra (the opening from which urine is passed). From here, bacteria can easily spread into the bladder or, more rarely, further to the kidneys. UTIs are more common in women than in men because the urethra is very short in women and bacteria can pass more easily into the bladder.  


Many people with a UTI will need to pass urine frequently and have urgency to urinate or a feeling that the bladder is still full after urinating. They will often have a ‘burning’ sensation on urination. The urine may have an offensive smell, and blood can sometimes be visible in the urine.  Lower abdominal pain and tenderness over the bladder may occur. Pain in the flanks (over the kidney area) and fever may indicate pyelonephritis.  


UTIs are sometimes diagnosed without tests if the symptoms are very typical. Most times, a mid stream urine sample will be collected. It is examined under the microscope to look for bacteria, pus cells or blood. If present, the bacteria are then grown and tested to see which antibiotic(s) will work to treat the infection. 
This process can take several days. It is important to see your doctor if you develop symptoms of UTI, so the diagnosis can be confirmed and treated. Other infections can sometimes be mistaken for a UTI, so STIs such as chlamydia are usually tested for at the same time.  


Firstly, it is important to treat the symptoms to reduce discomfort. Simple pain relief products like paracetamol can be useful and Ural sachets or Citravescent (available from a chemist) can help reduce the burning and stinging sensation. Good fluid intake is recommended, at least 1.5 — 2 litres of water per day. 

Secondly, antibiotics are needed to treat the bacterial infection. They are often started prior to receiving the test results, and changed if the tests show a different antibiotic is required. Symptoms usually resolve within 3 days, but some mild discomfort may remain for a few days as the bladder recovers. If pyelonephritis is suspected (eg if chills, fever and back pain are present), admission to hospital and intravenous antibiotics may be required.  


Although not always backed up by clinical research, some women have found the following suggestions useful in reducing their risk of developing urinary tract infections: 

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids to flush the urinary system. 
  • Avoid using spermicide-containing products, particularly with a diaphragm contraceptive device. 
  • Wipe yourself from front to back (urethra to anus) after going to the toilet. 
  • Empty your bladder after sex.
  • For women who have recurrent UTIs, daily intake of cranberry juice or capsules may reduce their incidence.

This fact sheet is designed to provide you with information on Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). It is not intended to replace the need for a consultation with your doctor. All clients are strongly advised to check with their doctor about any specific questions or concerns they may have. Every effort has been taken to ensure that the information in this pamphlet is correct at the time of printing.

Last Updated August 2012