Let’s Talk…Urinary Tract Infections UTIs

What are Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)?

A UTI is an infection in any part of your urinary system. This system, which includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra, helps filter your blood and get rid of waste and excess fluid from your body as urine (wee).

UTIs are very common, especially in women, babies and older people. One in two women and one in 20 men will likely get a UTI at some time.

UTIs are caused by bacteria – usually a micro-organism known as E. coli – coming into your body through your urethra and multiplying.

Most infections are confined to the bladder (cystitis) and are not serious. But if left untreated, the infection can spread to your kidneys (pyelonephritis), potentially cause kidney damage and pose a much bigger risk to your health. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor if you or your child notice UTI symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

UTI symptoms include:

  • passing small amounts of urine
  • feeling the urge to wee frequently
  • feeling that your bladder is full after you’ve passed urine
  • a stinging or burning feeling when you wee
  • smelly, cloudy, dark or bloody wee
  • nausea and fever
  • confusion
  • pain in your lower back or sides
  • discomfort in your lower abdomen

For children, UTI symptoms might also include:

  • irritability
  • fever
  • day or night wetting (when already toilet trained)
  • feeding problems (in babies)

Who’s most at risk?

Anyone can get a UTI, but you’re at higher risk if you’re:

  • female
  • female + sexually active or menopausal
  • male with prostate problems
  • an older person
  • a person with diabetes or urinary catheters
  • an infant

More risk factors for women include using spermicide jelly or diaphragm for contraception, having a new sexual partner in the last 12 months, having your first UTI before 15 years of age or having a family history of UTIs.

How does my GP diagnose a UTI?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, then examine you and do a simple urine test to confirm whether you have a UTI. They may send your urine to the lab for culture and sensitivity, and may start you on an antibiotic in the meantime if reasonably sure about the type of infection you have.  

What are my treatment options for a UTI?

You can sometimes treat very mild cystitis at home:

  • drink plenty of water and fluids
  • relieve discomfort by taking a commercial alkalising agent (like Ural or Citralite) or one teaspoon of bicarb soda in water
  • avoid acidic foods or drinks

If your symptoms don’t resolve quickly, or if you have persistent pain, you should see your doctor. Don’t delay – the sooner you see your GP, the better chance you have to prevent the infection spreading to your kidneys.

UTIs usually respond well to antibiotics. Your doctor will know the best antibiotics for you. You should complete the prescribed course of antibiotics, even after you start feeling better.

If your UTI symptoms persist or return, your doctor can order a ‘culture’ to test which germs are causing your UTI and then prescribe a more targeted antibiotic.

In rare cases where your UTI doesn’t improve, your GP might refer you to a specialist for follow-up treatment.

Can I do anything to help prevent a UTI?

If you’re a woman, you might lower your risk by:

  • drinking lots of water and other fluids to flush your urinary system
  • treating vaginal infections (like thrush) promptly
  • avoiding spermicide-containing products
  • avoiding constipation
  • going to the toilet as soon as you feel the need to wee
  • wiping yourself from front to back (urethra to anus)
  • wearing cotton underwear and avoiding nylon

Worried about UTI symptoms or have questions about your risks? Your doctor is your best resource for info, diagnosis and treatment. Book online to see your Caroline Springs GP consulting from Active Medical or call 03 9363 0954.

Find out more:

Kidney Health Australia

Health Direct