Urinary tract infection

If you or a family member has a urinary tract infection, you'll need to see your doctor 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

If you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection, you must see your doctor.

They may want a sample of your urine to test.

A urinary tract infection is treated with antibiotics.

You must take all the antibiotics you're given, even if your symptoms go away. If you don’t do this, the infection may become resistant to the antibiotic and may keep coming back.

Go back to your doctor if:

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

Self care

  • Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Don’t get dehydrated, because concentrated (dark, smelly) urine can irritate your urethra and make you want to go more often.
  • Ural or Citravescent sachets can help make your urine less acidic and less painful to pass. You can buy these from a pharmacy.
  • If you can't get any Ural or Citravescent and pain is severe, try urinating 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.
  • You can take a painkiller such as paracetamol (unless you have a history of kidney or liver disease).

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.
  • Wear cotton underpants.
  • Drinking cranberry juice daily may help prevent infections (but cannot cure one).
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.