Urinary Tract Infections – Everything You Need To Know / HARTMANN Information Centre

The HARTMANN Team

Urinary Tract Infections can often be a cause of incontinence. Our male incontinence products and incontinence products for women take away the worry during this time. Here we offer a guide to UTIs and the common signs of infection.  We give an idea of the measure you can take to prevent or treat mild UTIs.  We also explore the indicators that suggest you need support from your GP.

What Is A Urinary Tract Infection?

UTIs affect different parts of the urinary tract, which includes your bladder, your urethra or your kidneys.  Most urinary tract infections can be self-treated or easily treated by the GP with antibiotics.  Urinary Tract Infection symptoms can include:

  • An urgency to pee or needing to urinate more often than usual
  • A burning sensation when you pee, or a pain
  • Smelly or cloudy urine
  • Blood in your urine
  • Pain in your lower stomach
  • Generally feeling unwell or tired
  • Changes in behaviour or confusion and agitation can occur in older people; therefore UTIs are challenging to spot in people with dementia.

You are likely to tell if a child has a UTI if they begin to wet themselves or the bed, or they are holding in urine because it hurts when they go to the toilet.

What Are The Different Types of Urinary Tract Infections?

Three parts of the body can be impacted by UTIs, including the kidneys, the bladder and the urethra.

Body Part Disease Symptoms
Kidney Acute Pyelonephritis Upper back and side pain
High fever
Chills/shaking
Nausea
Vomiting
Bladder Cystitis Pressure in the pelvis
Discomfort in the abdomen
Frequent and potentially painful/burning urination
Blood in your urine
Urethra Urethritis Burning when you urinate
Discharge

 

What Causes a Urinary Tract Infection?

Urinary Tract Infection causes are, as with all infections, a result of invading bacteria.  In the case of UTIs, bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and multiply.  The urethra is designed to prevent such invasion but sometimes the system fails, and the body is unable to fight off the initial bacterium, for whatever reason.

Women are more prone to UTIs than men, particularly in the bladder and the urethra.  Cystitis is usually caused by E.Coli, a bacteria commonly found in our gut.  This can transfer when we go to the toilet.  However, other bacteria can be the cause of the infection, and this may be a result of sexual intercourse.

The unfortunate truth is that women are more prone to cystitis because of the short distance between the anus and the urethral opening.  The same is true of urethritis. There is also a short distance between the urethra and the vagina; therefore some STIs can cause urethritis too.

How Are UTI Infection Tests Confirmed?

Most UTIs can be confirmed with the use of a urinary dip test along with the confirmation of one or more symptoms mentioned earlier.  This is where you are asked to pee in a sample bottle and then a nurse or GP dips in a card, which will change colour depending on the results.  Men can also be offered a swab test, which is painless.  This test involves wiping a cotton bud on the top of the penis, which is then sent for testing.

What Are The Complications Of a UTI If Not Treated Properly?

It would help if you treated a UTI promptly.  If you do treat it quickly and using appropriate methods, you are unlikely to develop further complications.  However, untreated UTIs cause serious complications that should not be taken lightly.

Women are prone to recurrent infections, especially if you experience more than two UTIs in six months.  Untreated UTIs could result in permanent kidney damage or chronic kidney infection.  If you are pregnant with an untreated UTI, there is an increased chance your baby will be born prematurely or underweight.  A narrowing of the urethra in men is particularly difficult.  Sepsis is a life-threatening complication, which can be a result of an infection getting out of control.

What Are The Risk Factors For UTIs?

You are more likely to get a UTI if you are female, you are sexually active, if you use certain types of birth control and if you are going through the menopause.  Women who use diaphragms and spermicidal agents are thought to be at particular risk, as are those with new sexual partners.

There are other risk factors, including:

  • Catheters and particularly indwelling catheters
  • Abnormalities in the urinary tract
  • Blockages in the urinary tract, such as kidney stones
  • A suppressed immune system, which makes it difficult for the body to fight infection
  • Recent urinary procedures, such as surgery or an examination

How To Treat a Urinary Tract Infection?

If you go to a GP and are confirmed to have a UTI, it is likely that you will be given antibiotics.  You should notice a difference within five days of taking the tablets.  Remember it is essential to finish all tablets, even if the symptoms seem to have disappeared.  If your UTI is severe, you may be sent to the hospital for tests and further treatment.  It is far more likely for men and children to need hospital treatment for a UTI.   At this point you will be under the care of a urologist, who mostly considers kidney stones, poorly draining bladders, abnormal kidneys or recurrent infections with no apparent cause.

If you are concerned about taking too many antibiotics and you feel your symptoms are mild, you may wish to increase the amount of fluid you are drinking and take paracetamol to manage the pain and the fever.  Your pharmacist should also be able to offer advice on over-the-counter treatments that include agents that alkalinise your urine.  However, if symptoms persist despite these efforts, you must see a GP.

Why Do People Continually Get Urinary Tract Infections?

It may be that you are suddenly suffering recurrent UTIs because you are going through the menopause and you are experiencing changes in oestrogen.  It could also be a result of kidney or bladder stones, which are causing blockages.  Women are more likely to suffer from recurrent infections than men due to the biology of the female body, and therefore can sometimes be a result of poor hygiene.

How Do You Get a UTI?

The common ways of contracting a UTI include:

  • Passage of debris between the anus and the urethra
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Medical procedures in and around the urethra, including catheter use.
  • Incomplete bladder emptying
  • Infrequent urination, usually due to dehydration
  • Poorly draining or misshapen kidneys

Are Urinary Tract Infections Contagious?

Sexually active women are more prone to UTIs than those who are not.  However, this is not because UTIs are contagious.  Being sexually active allows for the transference of bacteria from one orifice to another and therefore makes people more prone to suffer from an infection.  Urinating after sexual activity and drinking lots can wash such debris out of the urethra and thus prevent infection.

How Long Does a Urinary Tract Infection Last?

Once you start treatment with antibiotics, the infection should clear up within five days in adults and within two days in children.  If you are treating with fluids and painkillers, it is vital that you do not wait more than five days before seeking treatment if it continues. The estimate is that about 25% of UTIs can be resolved this way, but this still means many will need intervention from the GP.

How To Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

Cranberry juice for urinary tract infections is one of those suggestions passed from mother to daughter through a family line.  There is no specific evidence to suggest that cranberry juice is an effective cure for infections; it is an excellent way to prevent UTIs.  Drinking plenty of fluid is the essential preventative method, as water dilutes your urine and forces you to pee more regularly.  This frequent urination from drinking a lot essentially flushes out the urethra before infection can set in.

One of the most essential preventative methods for women is to wipe from the front to the back.  This prevents material from your anus entering your urethra.  Equally, emptying your bladder soon after intercourse can wash out any debris that may have been transferred during sex.

If you use a diaphragm or spermicides and frequently suffer from UTIs, changing your method of birth control may also help you to prevent further infection.

When Should You See a Doctor?

It is important to see the GP if you are a man with a suspected UTI.  How does a man get a urinary tract infection? Well, it is usually a sign that bacteria from stool has entered the urinary tract.  As men have a shorter urethra, it is possible for this to travel more speedily to the kidney or the bladder; hence it is more critical than men go to the GP sooner than women.

Other reasons to move quickly to see a GP is if you are pregnant, a person under 16, if the person is elderly, if you have never had a UTI before, if there is blood in your urine, if your symptoms fail to improve despite taking personal action, or if the symptoms come back after treatment.

Summary

UTIs are a common condition, particularly in women.  There are numerous reasons why you may have contracted an infection, and early treatment is always best.  You can prevent the onset of UTIs by staying hydrated and maintaining good toilet hygiene. However, it is essential to recognise that untreated UTIs can have serious consequences, particularly for the kidneys, therefore seeing a GP is often advised.

References

Mayo Clinic. (2019). Urinary tract infection (UTI) - Symptoms and causes. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20353447 [Accessed 25 Apr. 2019].

Nhsinform.scot. (2019). Urinary tract infection (UTI) symptoms and treatments. [online] Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/kidneys-bladder-and-prostate/urinary-tract-infection-uti [Accessed 25 Apr. 2019].

nhs.uk. (2019). Urinary tract infections (UTIs). [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-tract-infections-utis/ [Accessed 25 Apr. 2019].

 

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