Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
UTIs can affect different parts of your urinary tract, including your bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis) or kidneys (kidney infection). Most UTIs can be easily treated with antibiotics.
Check if it’s a UTI
Symptoms of a UTI include:
- needing to pee suddenly or more often than usual
- pain or a burning sensation when peeing
- smelly or cloudy pee
- blood in your pee
- pain in your lower tummy
- feeling tired and unwell
- in older people, changes in behaviour such as severe confusion or agitation
UTI symptoms may be difficult to spot in people with dementia.
Children with UTIs may also:
- appear generally unwell - babies may be irritable, not feed properly and have a high temperature (fever) of 37.5C or above
- wet the bed or themselves
- deliberately hold in their pee because it stings
See a GP if:
- you’re a man with symptoms of a UTI
- you’re pregnant with symptoms of a UTI
- your child has symptoms of a UTI
- you’re caring for someone elderly who may have a UTI
- you haven’t had a UTI before
- you have blood in your pee
- your symptoms don’t improve within a few days
- your symptoms come back after treatment
Ask for an urgent GP appointment if you have:
- pain in your sides or lower back
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C or above
- shivering and chills
- felt sick or been sick
These symptoms suggest a kidney infection, which can be serious if it isn’t treated.
Sexual health clinics can help with UTIs
Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals and urinary tract, including UTIs.
They can provide the same antibiotics you would get at your GP surgery.
Many sexual health clinics also offer a walk-in service, where you don’t need an appointment.
What happens at your appointment
You’ll be asked about your symptoms and may need to give a urine sample to confirm you have a UTI.
A urine test helps to rule out other conditions that might be causing your symptoms.
Men are sometimes offered a painless swab test to check for other conditions. This is where a cotton bud is wiped on the tip of the penis and sent for testing.
This won’t hurt, but may feel uncomfortable.
Your doctor or nurse will prescribe antibiotics to treat a UTI.
Once you start treatment, the symptoms should start to clear up within 5 days in adults and 2 days in children.
It’s important to finish the whole course of antibiotics, even if you start to feel better.
Some people with a severe UTI may be referred to hospital for treatment and tests. You may need to stay for a few days. Hospital treatment is more likely for men and children with a UTI.
Treating recurring UTIs
If your UTI comes back any time after treatment, you’ll usually be prescribed a longer course of antibiotics.
If you keep getting UTIs and regularly need treatment, your GP may give you a repeat antibiotics prescription.
Things you can do yourself
Mild UTIs often pass within a few days. To help ease pain while your symptoms clear up:
- take paracetamol - you can give children liquid paracetamol
- place a hot water bottle on your tummy, back or between your thighs
- rest and drink plenty of fluids - this helps your body to flush out the bacteria
It may also help to avoid having sex until you feel better. You can’t pass a UTI on to your partner but sex may be uncomfortable.
Avoid taking NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin if you have a kidney infection. This may increase the risk of kidney problems.
Speak to your doctor before you stop taking any prescribed medication.
Causes of UTIs
UTIs are usually caused by bacteria from poo entering the urinary tract. The bacteria enters through the tube that carries pee out of the body (urethra).
Women have a shorter urethra than men. This means bacteria is more likely to reach the bladder or kidneys and cause an infection.
Causes of UTIs include:
- conditions that block the urinary tract - such as kidney stones
- conditions that make it difficult to fully empty the bladder - such as an enlarged prostate gland in men and constipation in children
- urinary catheters (a tube in your bladder used to drain urine)
- having a weakened immune system – for example, from type 2 diabetes, chemotherapy or HIV
You can’t always prevent UTIs
There are some things you can do to try and prevent a UTI.
- wipe from front to back when you go to the toilet
- try to fully empty your bladder when you go for a pee
- drink plenty of fluids
- take showers instead of baths
- wear loose, cotton underwear
- pee as soon as possible after sex
- change your baby or toddler’s nappies regularly
There is very little evidence that drinking cranberry juice or using probiotics reduces your chance of getting UTIs.
If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.