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Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections are common infections that can affect the bladder (cystitis), the kidneys and the tubes connected to them.
Anyone can get them, but they’re particularly common in women. Some women experience them regularly (called recurrent UTIs).

Urinary tract infection (UTIs) are the second most common type of infection that can occur in the body and are usually caused by bacteria that enter the body via the urethra (tube that carries urine out of the body).

Symptoms of UTIs

Infections of the bladder or urethra are known as lower UTIs. These can cause (not always all of these together):

  • needing to urinate (wee) more often and urgently than normal
  • pain, burning or stinging when you wee
  • feeling as though you’re unable to empty your bladder fully
  • urine that’s dark, cloudy or strong-smelling
  • feeling generally unwell, achy and tired

Infections of the kidneys or ureters are known as upper UTIs. These can cause the above symptoms and also:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above
  • pain in your sides or back
  • shivering and chills
  • feeling and being sick
  • confusion, agitation or restlessness

Lower UTIs are common and aren’t usually a cause for major concern. Upper UTIs can be serious if left untreated. If symptoms don’t improve or you are worried, contact your pharmacist, GP or contact NHS 111.

Treatment of UTIs

Mild cases often get better by themselves within a few days. Symptoms of cystitis can also be caused by other conditions, so children and men should always see their GP.

Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol can help with any pain. Drinking fluids may also help you feel better. There’s currently little evidence to suggest that drinking cranberry juice significantly reduces your chances of getting UTIs.

Avoiding sex when you have a UTI may also help because it may make the condition worse.

If symptoms persist, talk to your pharmacist who can assess your symptoms and advise on appropriate treatments. This may involve testing a sample of your urine. You can also contact NHS 111 for advice.

Preventing UTIs

If you get UTIs frequently, there are some things you can try that may stop it coming back.

  • Staying well hydrated (drink six to eight glasses of water daily).
  • Avoiding perfumed bubble bath, soap or talcum powder around your genitals – use plain, unperfumed varieties, and have a shower rather than a bath.
  • Going to the toilet as soon as you need to wee.
  • Wiping your bottom front to back when you go to the toilet.
  • Emptying your bladder as soon as possible after having sex.
  • Not using a contraceptive diaphragm or condoms with spermicidal lubricant on them – consider using alternative products or methods.
  • Wearing underwear made from cotton, rather than synthetic material such as nylon, and avoiding tight jeans and trousers.

Are you drinking enough?

A good rule is to drink enough fluid so that you’re not thirsty for long periods, and to steadily increase your fluid intake when exercising and during hot weather. Passing clear urine (wee) is a good sign that you’re well hydrated.

Try to drink 6 to 8 glasses daily of fluids such as water or diluted squash. These are much more effective than large amounts of tea, coffee or fizzy drinks, which contain caffeine.

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