Urinary tract infection

If you or a family member has a urinary tract infection, you'll need to see your healthcare professional for antibiotics.

Summary

Urinary tract infections are more common in girls and women – mainly because their urethra (the tube that goes from the bladder to the outside) is short and close to the anus.

Bacteria from bowel motions are the cause of most urinary infections. The bacteria can be transferred to the urethral area when wiping after a bowel motion or after sex.

You’re more likely to get a urinary tract infection if you’re pregnant or have a sexually transmitted disease. If the structure of your urinary tract is irregular, that can also make it more likely that you could get a urinary tract infection.

Symptoms

General symptoms

  • Pain, burning or stinging when you pass urine 
  • A sudden or constant urge to urinate – or need to go more often
  • Pain in your lower abdomen, lower back or side
  • Blood or pus (clouding) in your urine.

Symptoms in children

In children, the symptoms can be less clear.

Your child might:

  • be ‘fussy’ (unsettled)
  • have a fever
  • have abdominal pain
  • have vomiting or diarrhoea.

If your child is toilet trained and suddenly starts to wet their pants again, it could be a sign of a urinary tract infection.

It is also a sign if your child doesn’t want to pass urine (because of pain).

Symptoms in older people

Older people may have no symptoms or fever.

They might instead have:

  • changes in their mental state (such as confusion or lethargy)
  • a fall
  • symptoms such as diarrhoea or abdominal discomfort. 

Treatment

See your doctor, pharmacist or nurse

If you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection see your doctor, pharmacist or nurse.
 
A urinary tract infection is usually treated with antibiotics. Your doctor and some nurses can prescribe antibiotics or if you are a woman between 16 and 65 years then an accredited pharmacist may be able to provide you with antibiotics. Antibiotics supplied by a pharmacist without a prescription may cost more than the standard prescription charge (usually $5)  but you do not need an appointment.

An accredited pharmacist is trained to identify who they can treat and who needs to be referred to another health professional. Call your pharmacist first to check if they're accredited.

You must take all the antibiotics you're given, even if your symptoms go away, to make sure the infection doesn’t come back. Not finishing the whole course of antibiotics may also cause the infection to become resistant to the antibiotic and it won’t work as well if you need it again.

See your doctor if:

  • your symptoms haven't improved within three days of starting antibiotics
  • you have shaking chills or fever (temperature over 39ºC), a rapid pulse, or are feeling very unwell
  • you have any other new or worse symptoms.

Self care

  • Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed and complete the course, even if your symptoms improve.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Concentrated (darker than usual) urine may cause further irritation.
  • Ural or Citravescent sachets may make your urine less acidic and less painful to pass. You can buy these from a pharmacy. The use of these sachets for treating urinary tract infections is still being studied.
  • If the pain when passing urine is severe, it may help to urinate in a bath or tub of water, or pour water over your genitals as you urinate to dilute the urine coming into contact with the irritated urethral opening.
  • A painkiller such as paracetamol may help (taken as per prescriber or manufacturer instructions).

Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.

Prevention

Ways to prevent urinary tract infections

  • Avoid dehydration – drink plenty of fluids.
  • Empty your bladder before and soon after sex.
  • Wipe backwards after bowel movements, to take any bowel motions (‘poos’) away from your urethra, where the urine (‘wees’) comes out.
  • Wear cotton underpants.
  • Some people believe that drinking cranberry juice daily may help prevent infections. However, there is little scientific evidence for this.
For younger girls – ensure good genital hygiene. Encourage your daughter to avoid perfumed soaps and long soaks in bubble baths (especially if she has already had a urinary tract infection). Buy soft toilet paper and tell her to wipe gently.

Avoid food and drinks that can irritate your bladder, including:

  • fizzy, alcoholic and caffeinated drinks (eg, coffee and tea). (Also avoid cold and allergy medicines that contain caffeine)
  • tomatoes, fruit juice (except cranberry juice), dairy products, spicy foods, sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Stopping smoking will also help.

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