Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

Medically reviewed

An infection that develops in any part of the urinary system is known as a urinary tract infection (UTI). Find out about the main symptoms and what to do if you think you have a UTI.

What is a urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common infection that develops in your urinary system – this includes your bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis) or kidneys (kidney infection). Most UTIs affect the bladder and the urethra in the lower urinary tract.

UTIs affect around 50-60% of women in their lifetime.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

Common UTI symptoms include:

  • A strong, constant urge to pee

  • Pain, discomfort, or a burning sensation when you pee

  • Cloudy pee

  • Strong-smelling pee

  • Peeing more often than usual 

  • Blood in your pee or urine that looks red, pink, or brown in colour

  • Pelvic pain, lower tummy pain or pain in your lower back

  • A high temperature

Additional UTI symptoms in children include wetting themselves or wetting the bed at night, being sick and generally feeling unwell.

What causes a UTI?

When bacteria from your bottom or vagina gets into your urinary tract, it can enter the urethra (the tube that takes pee from the bladder to outside your body). If the bacteria reaches the bladder or kidneys, it can cause an infection.

This is more likely to be an issue for women because their urethra is shorter than men’s, making it easier for bacteria to reach the bladder.

Certain factors increase your risk of getting a UTI:

  • Sex – this can involve the movement of bacteria from one person to another

  • Having a weak immune system – if you have diabetes, for example

  • Pregnancy

  • Having a urinary catheter (a thin tube that drains urine from your bladder)

  • Certain health conditions – like kidney stones, enlarged prostate gland (in men), stroke and spinal cord injury

How is a UTI diagnosed?

If you have UTI symptoms, speak to a doctor or healthcare professional. They will ask you about your symptoms and perform a urine dipstick test to look for signs of infection. They may also send a sample of your urine to a laboratory to find out which bacteria is causing your UTI. 

If you have recurrent UTIs, they may organise further tests like an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI scan.

How is a UTI treated?

Some UTIs go away on their own but if yours doesn’t, you may need treatment. UTI treatment will depend on how severe your infection is. The doctor or pharmacist may recommend some self-care and over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol. 

You may be offered a course of antibiotics, which are usually highly effective at clearing up UTIs. Make sure you take the entire course, even if you start to feel better earlier.

If the UTI comes back after treatment, or you experience recurrent UTIs, you’ll need to try alternative antibiotics. You may be recommended a low dose of antibiotics over a longer period of time.

How can I prevent a UTI?

You can help to prevent UTIs by following these steps:

  • Drink plenty of water (around 2-3 litres per day) to dilute any bacteria that may be present

  • Cut down on alcohol and sugary food and drink

  • Keep your genital area clean and dry

  • Pee straight after sex and avoid spermicidal lube as it can irritate your urinary tract

  • Always wipe from front to back when you go to the toilet 

  • Avoid scented soap and sanitary products

  • Try to go to the toilet as soon as you need to, and make sure you fully empty your bladder

  • Wear cotton underwear and avoid synthetic underwear and tight-fitting clothes

When should I speak to a doctor about a UTI?

If you think you have a UTI, you may not need any treatment, but it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor. Some pharmacists offer a UTI management service, which includes advice about painkillers and prescribing antibiotics. 

Always see a doctor if:

  • You have an extremely high or low temperature

  • You have blood in your pee 

  • You haven’t had a pee all day

  • You have pain in your back or lower tummy

What can Livi do?

Livi’s healthcare professionals can help to diagnose a UTI and prescribe the best antibiotic treatment. If you need further support, they’ll help to refer you for other treatment.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson