One in two women will get a urinary tract infection (also called a UTI or cystitis) in their lifetime.
What causes UTIs, what increases your risk of getting a UTI, the symptoms, how it is diagnosed and what you can do to prevent further UTIs is discussed.
What is a UTI?
Causes of UTIs
Who is at risk?
Management & treatment
How can UTIs be prevented?
A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract that can affect the:
One in two women will get a UTI in their lifetime. Nearly one in three women will have a UTI needing treatment before they are 24 years of age. The most common type of UTI in women is cystitis (infection of the bladder).
UTIs are caused by bacteria (or germs) entering the urinary system, usually via the urethra (the tube through which urine passes from the bladder to outside the body).
Several factors can increase the risk of bacteria entering the urinary system, including:
|Infection from anus|
The urethra in women is quite short and close to the anus, making it easier for bacteria (usually from faeces) to move up the urethra, enter the bladder and cause an infection.
Frequent sex increases the risk of bacteria being moved around the genital area and entering the urethra.
The increase in UTI risk at menopause can be explained by the physical changes associated with menopause. As oestrogen levels drop, vulval tissue becomes thinner and drier, increasing the risk of irritation or abrasions that encourage infection. The urethra also becomes flatter and more easily exposed to the skin of the vulva.
|Reduced pelvic floor strength|
Reduced pelvic floor strength affects bladder function because, in some cases, the bladder does not completely empty, leaving a 'pool' of urine, which can lead to infection.
Wearing a condom during sex does not cause a UTI, nor does wearing a tampon.
Women at greater risk of contracting a UTI:
Frequent UTIs in women need further assessment. High fever and pain in the back (kidney area) can indicate a kidney infection and this needs urgent medical treatment.
A partner is not at risk of catching a UTI if you have sex. However, the symptoms may be uncomfortable and you may not feel like having sex.
A urine sample is taken and examined to see if an infection is present. Your doctor may also perform a physical examination.
If you have regular UTIs, you may need other tests such as an ultrasound of your kidneys to investigate further.
UTIs usually respond well to simple treatment:
|Treatment||What it does and what to do|
|Urinary alkalisers||To relieve the pain and frequency of urination: - Make your own by dissolving one level teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water, and then drink the water - Or buy a commercial alkaliser from a chemist.|
|Water||Drink 6-8 glasses (1.5-2 litres) of water per day to flush the urinary system|
|Antibiotics||To fight the infection. See your doctor as soon as possible because the earlier you start treatment the better.|
Although UTIs are easily treated with antibiotics, they can develop into more serious kidney infections if left untreated. If your symptoms persist for more than 24 hours and include fever, chills, back pain, nausea or vomiting, you should see your doctor immediately. The symptoms should completely resolve within a few days once a course of antibiotics has started. If this is not the case, it's important to review as soon as possible with your doctor.
If you are pregnant and you think you have a UTI, see your doctor immediately.
Your doctor may recommend other treatments for you, such as long-term antibiotics. Talk to your doctor about treatment options to suit you.
This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at August 2018.