Urinary tract infections in adults 


Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

GP Dr Sarah Jarvis talks about how urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused, the symptoms and the treatment options available. Note: Cranberry supplements may be a more reliable source of cranberry than shop bought juice

Media last reviewed: 28/08/2013

Next review due: 28/08/2015

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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common. They can be painful and uncomfortable, but they usually pass within a few days or can be easily treated with a course of antibiotics.

UTIs are more common in women than in men. It's estimated half of all women in the UK will have a UTI at least once in their life, and 1 in 2,000 healthy men will develop one each year.

Children can also get UTIs, although this is less common. Read more about UTIs in children.

If you develop a UTI, you're likely to feel:

  • pain or a burning sensation when urinating (doctors refer to this as dysuria)
  • a need to urinate often
  • pain in the lower abdomen (tummy)

Find out more about UTI symptoms.

When to see your GP

You may find your UTI symptoms are mild and pass within a few days. However, if you find your symptoms very uncomfortable or if they last for more than five days, see your GP.

Also see your GP if you have a UTI and:

  • you develop a high temperature
  • your symptoms suddenly get worse
  • you are pregnant
  • you have diabetes

Treating UTIs

Urinary tract infections usually get better on their own within four or five days.

Antibiotics can help speed up recovery time and are usually recommended for women who keep getting UTIs. In some cases, long-term use of antibiotics help prevent the infection returning.

Complications of a UTI aren't common, but can be serious and lead to kidney failure or blood poisoning.

These complications usually only affect people with a pre-existing health problem, such as diabetes or a weakened immune system (the body's natural defence against infection).

Men with a recurrent UTI are at risk of prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate).

Read more about how UTIs are treated.

What is the urinary tract?

The urinary tract is where our bodies make and get rid of urine. It's made up of:

  • the kidneys – two bean-shaped organs, about the size of your fists, that make urine out of waste materials from the blood
  • the ureters – tubes that run from the kidney to the bladder
  • the bladder – where urine is stored until we go to the toilet
  • the urethra – the tube from the bladder through which urine leaves the body

What causes a UTI?

A UTI develops when part of the urinary tract becomes infected, usually by bacteria. Bacteria can enter the urinary tract through the urethra or, more rarely, through the bloodstream.

There is usually no obvious reason why the urinary tract gets infected, although some women find they develop a UTI after having sex.

UTIs are not sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but irritation from having sex can sometimes trigger a UTI.

UTIs in men are far less common than in women and need investigating to find an underlying cause. These causes may include narrowing of the urethra (a stricture), a previous STI, a bladder stone, or a problem with the prostate gland. 

Read more about what causes a UTI.

Emptying your bladder after sex, wiping from front to back after going to the toilet, avoiding constipation and drinking cranberry juice are all thought to reduce your risk of developing a urinary tract infection.

Read more about preventing a UTI.

Different types of UTI

You can get an infection in the lower (bladder and urethra) or upper (kidney and ureters) part of the urinary tract, and doctors often describe them as lower or upper UTIs.

Upper UTIs are potentially more serious than lower UTIs because there is a risk of kidney damage.

An infection of the bladder is called cystitis, while an infection of the urethra is known as urethritis.

Page last reviewed: 17/07/2014

Next review due: 17/07/2016


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The 30 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

eliz1990 said on 05 November 2014

Last year I had around 7 confirmed utis, one of the most recent spread to my kidneys and I was omitted to hospital for 4 days whilst antibiotics, paracetamol and water was fed through a drip. I had more infections after this, where antibiotics worked for a couple of days but the day I finished the courses, the infection returned worse. I tried every type of antibiotic for the problem, cranberry sachets, setting alarms through the night to drinks pints of water - nothing worked I genuinely believed these infections were becoming stronger every time and could kill one day. It caused me great stress and I developed anxiety about the issue and how serious it had gotten.

I had heard of dmannose on some blogs and forums and thought it was just going to be like the cranberry sachets and it wouldn't work - if the strongest course of antibiotics wouldn't get rid of it, some form of sugar couldn't! I carried on researching for a few months and I thought it was worth a try so bought a tub of powder dmannose. I had two or three drinks of water with a teaspoon of dmannose in each, and I knew when I went to the toilet next that this was working! I'd urge anyone to try this, especially for e-coli uti infections (most bladder infections are e-coli) it literally saved my life, I'd been given antibiotics from a specialist to take whenever I felt an infection come on but there has been no need for this since trying dmannose. It works by clinging itself to the bacteria on the bladder walls (works throughout urinary tract) and pulling them off with it, it flushes away next time the bladder is emptied.

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Roseline11a said on 22 October 2014

I am almost 32 and have been getting cystitis since i was 16 and usually around 5 times a year. I am literally desperate and so down I've had time off work etc spent literally hours sat on the toilet just for some comfort. For a while having a wee before and after sex stopped it but this no longer works, the soda sachets don't work drinking cranberry doesn't work 1 anti biotic works for me but takes days to kick in. I've had ultra sounds to check my kidneys and bladder all apparently normal. The only thing i do when i get an attack is sit on the toilet constantly drinking water till it eases this can take between 4 and 6 hours! Currently 2.45 minutes and counting! My gp has said the only answer would be to just take anti biotic every day forever

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NLSutton said on 14 October 2014

I used to get these at least once a month for a year and a half between the ages of 20-22. I know what it was possibly down to though as they have stopped since I had the implant removed and my body has gotten used to the pill again.

The UTIs started after I left my past partner and got with my 2nd partner, whenever we had intercourse I would get an infection and he tested himself as well but it was nothing on his end. Though inbetween them I had stopped taking the pill and had the implant put in place instead, though after I split up with my 2nd partner and got with my current partner I had the implant removed about 2 months after being with him (in 2013 (around Feb/March time)) and I went back on the pill but the UTI's carried on, I kept getting them and I knew my current partner was clean as he hadn't been with a woman for a very long time before we found each other and my last infection was in June (2014).

And now since my body has gotten on track with using the pill the infections have stopped. The doctors don't believe it was the implant, but as I said, since taking it out and getting back on the pill everything has been fine. I guess every ones bodies are different to certain things.

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corky40 said on 08 October 2014

I suffered repeated uti's from my mid teens until my 30's. It was getting to the point where I had built a resistance to various antibiotics. Then I read about the benefits of cranberry. I bought a high strength supplement (capsules) from a health food shop and took them for 3 months. Since then (13 years) I have rarely suffered and if I get any hint that I may be getting cystitis I take cranberry immediately. It apparently works by inhibiting the way in which bacteria moves and colonises in the urinary tract, specifically e coli. If you have a full blown infection, go to your GP. Cranberry worked for me and has changed the quality of my life, but an infection needs to be treated with antibiotics.

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ElderFlower53 said on 27 September 2014

Following breast cancer in 2003 I was treated with 5 years of Tamoxifen. One of the side effects of this treatment is that it can cause vaginal atrophy (complete drying up and shrinkage) which can`t be treated with oestrogen as it might in many postmenopausal women.

This situation has lead to many UTIs and cystitis over the years - I`ve had 5 attacks this year already. Because the entire area is dry, there is nothing to prevent opportunistic e-coli travelling around from my bum and infecting my urethra. I also have a verge large uterine fibroid which presses on my bladder.

Until this week the best anti-biotic for me has been Nitrofurantoin, but on Tuesday after one tablet I developed an anaphalactic allergic reaction - my upper lip tripled in size, resulting in a trip to A&E by ambulance. I can`t take the alternative AB, Trimethroprim, because I`m an epileptic.

Does anyone know of another effective anti-biotic against e-coli infections??

Some things that I`ve found useful: I drink low sugar cranberry every morning; avoid alcohol; drink plenty of water with a tiny bit of fruit concentrate; fully empty my bladder each time I need to go; swab front to back with warm water on toilet paper after each urination.

If I feel the tell-tale-tingling I take a urine sample and have my own dipsticks to check for leucocytes. Then I start with D-mannose, or if it`s worse, Cymalon sachets in lots of water.
I dread the terrible pain that comes with a full-blown UTI, and I don`t know how I will cope without an anti-biotic.
Oh! the joys of getting older!!

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chloetaylor369 said on 07 September 2014

Ive come here to hopefully get answers and to see if any of you have been through what I have. When I wa younger I had reoccurring utis, and was regularly in hospital having scans and tests to get rid of the infection. From around age 10-16 I was free of any utis and living a normal teenagers life, well and healthy. Im now 18 years old and have another uti, which ive had for 2 years and this time its lot worse. Ive been suffering with nausea, back pain, and extreme cramps and I generally feel ill everyday , like I have a fever, Ive been in and out of the hospital and put on antibiotics for 2 years but was told at the start of this year that the uti is fighting the antibiotics and wont respond to them. Im now waiting for a surgery date to have a cystoscopy, and am just wondering if anybody has had this after feeling extremely unwell like I have everyday? and if after the cystoscopy they were cured and diagnosed with the actual problem? If anybody at all reads this and Is/has gone through this, please get in touch and give me some answers! It will be much appreciated. I just want to know its not only me going through this..

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nat1011 said on 06 May 2014

Could anyone try to describe the distinctive odour which tends to accompany the UTI's?
I'm unsure as to whether it is a UTI I have or something else.
I have a green discharge too....has anyone suffered with this?
Apologies if this is too much information!!

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JuneLoretta said on 16 April 2014

This article doesn’t mention the possibility of urethral diverticulum in women with recurring uti and with which I’ve just been diagnosed after several years of non-specific symptoms and going on 3 years of constant uti, 20+ courses of antibiotics – some lasting 30 days - and the most horrendous of experiences, trying to maintain a job throughout….
Having been told by several GPs and at least 2 Consultant Urologists that ‘this is just something that happens to women at a certain age’ and which tends to be treated with prophylaxic antibiotics’, my response was “there is something causing this, you just haven’t found out what, yet!” I had to insist on the CT-KUB that ultimately exposed a ‘vaginal cystic lesion’, which 4 months later was finally diagnosed as a urethral diverticulum.
6 wks after that diagnosis, I am still waiting to speak to the Urogynaecologist who will perform the necessary surgery… I am completely demented!

Please tell your colleagues within the NHS… women have to be tested for this condition when presenting with recurrent uti… had I known of its existence, I’d have self-diagnosed 3 years ago!

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summer breeze said on 03 February 2014

21NG12... i too suffered the same thing with constant UTI. i cut chocolate, cheese and citrus foods from my diet and take a herbal supplement called uva ursi. i have been so much better. all problems have a trigger and you need to find out what it is.

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21NG12 said on 02 January 2014

I'm constantly getting a UTI but don't know what to do about it, feel like I'm constantly taking antibiotic or sodium citrate drinks and I know that it can't be good for me. I've got Crohn's disease so I'm taking medication which lowers my immune system and I know that this could be a problem as to why I get them so often... But I need to find something to try and prevent it. Doctors are not helpful and just keep giving me different antibiotics and it's fine at the time it takes the pain away but it's back within a few days... Can anyone help give suggestions to try and prevent it?

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dhy26 said on 23 August 2013

I have been getting recurrent UTIs for years (sex being the only cause) and tried all the precautions, remedies, preventative measures, etc all to no avail. Every time I got a bladder infection (at times once a month for several months), I'd need to take time off work, go on antibiotics, which would bring on thrush, as well as have the added worry of my pill not working due to the antibiotics and getting pregnant! I was getting quite depressed and was ready to split up with my boyfriend and never ever have sex again and just become a nun!

However, the natural supplement D-mannose has changed my life! It's a sweet tasting crystalline solid from a plant (a bit like Stevia alternative for sugar) and it works by attaching to the eColi in your bladder and flushing it out in the urine. Taken before sex, I find it prevents bladder infections taking hold. Truly life-changing, I'm so glad I discovered it!

Look it up online everyone and I hope you find it as successful as I have and you too can get your life back! Good luck! ;-) x

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User785847 said on 05 July 2013

I've just recently been on holiday for a week and half way through I found myself with terrible pains in the lower left of my stomach which left me consistently bending over slightly to ease the pain. I found myself constantly needing to pee but when I went to the loo, I could not urinate. I questioned as to whether or not it was a water infection but I decided against it as I didn't want it to ruin my holiday. I decided to try cranberry juice to see if it would help me in the slightest because seeing as I was abroad I would not be able to nip to my GP for them to give me antibiotics. After a day or two of hobbling about my hotel, I notice the cranberry juice had helped. Even though I wasn't 100% urinating everytime I went to the loo, the pain was nearly gone and I felt much better.
Basically, try cranberry juice if you have no other way of reaching a solution at that moment in time.

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User784167 said on 29 June 2013

Hi as somebody who has suffered with a predisposition to urinary infections since I was 13 ( am now 30) I can sympathise. I spent years on one antibiotic or the other and now very few work. Eventually I was referred to a urologist who diagnosed me with Interstitial Cystitis, it's an auto immune disease. Urinary infection crop up regularly and unexpectedly, all the usual symptoms of a urine infection can occur even when there isn't one and the pain can be so debilitating that you are unable to sleep, function and sometimes walk. I can only describe it as a sharp shooting pain in the urethra. It can be triggered by certain foods though often diff foods for diff people are triggers. I am now prescribed Amytriptaline, and tramadol for the pain. There is no cure. If what I have described sounds like it could relate to you please research the condition and speak to your GP, there are a lot of different treatments available and finding one that suits you could take some time.

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lindysfarm said on 26 February 2013

have had UTIs for quite a number of years now at last going to see a urologist

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summer breeze said on 13 February 2013

The best way i have kept my UTI's under control is by taking the supplement uva ursi and drinking two glasses of water a day that contain a small amount of baking soda. Also i don't drink no more than 2 cups of coffee or tea a day and i avoid eating chocolate and cheese as i found these to be major triggers for a stinging/burning bladder. i never drink acidic stuff either. finally make sure you keep the stress levels down. :)

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Turquand said on 05 February 2013

Was told I needed to take antibiotics for life!

So tried acupuncture and home made barley water has worked a treat!

Would highly recommend this approach, buy barley soak use water......makes blood ph unsuitable for infection, £3 a month!

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Queenie900 said on 28 January 2013

I have suffered with UTI's for 3 years+ had all the tests, scans but no explination, but have found something that stops it in its tracks! It's called potassium citrate mixture, 10ml diluted in lots of water (I always use cranberry juice too as its pretty horrid) I usually don't need to take it after the first day though as its super! I have just had about 3 months with no Uti until today! As I take cranberry extract everyday too, have foud this really works its between £4-6 a month which isn't too bad.

You can get the potassium citrate from any pharmacy behind the counter and the cranberry tablets from any supermarket.

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Pipm001 said on 30 December 2012

Why is it I always seem to get that tell tale twinge that I am getting a UTI late at night on a Friday or over Christmas in this case, and you just know that a trip to the doctors is going to be impossible. However I have become quite adept at dealing with the symptoms over the years.
Firstly, as suggested by someone else I drink water with bicarbonate of soda, then I keep drinking water until I almost feel sick.
Then, I take paracetamol which takes the edge off the discomfort.
Next I swab myself with a solution of tea tree oil in water, this is antibacterial and helps to kill off any bacteria present around the urethra. This also seems to ease the discomfort. I do this after every time I pee!
Finally, I often find that I feel so uncomfortable that I cannot sleep, a hot water bottle between the legs usually helps.
And keep drinking water!

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clairy4 said on 06 October 2012

Its not about being unclean as such of course hygiene is important but its your internal flora that is out of sorts and the more antibiotics you take the worse it gets.

You need to take a good probiotic like optibac or Fem Dophilus. These will help UTI's, thrush, BV and rebalance your system from the inside.

Lots of things like the pill, diet make our systems out of balance. HTH.

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Daniella1 said on 30 September 2012

I have suffered from reoccuring UTI's for about 3 years now and it is really starting to take over my life!!!
It would be alot easier if i could go to the walk in centre or hospital and get the Usual antibiotics but my body has decided to become resistant to them so i now have to make a doctors appointment to get the antibiotics but this always proves impossible...
and the thing is i dont know when i will develop a UTI it just happens so i just go round and round in circles...
I drink plenty of fluids, water, cranberry juice but everything i do just doesnt seem to work!!!!!

If anyone has any tips for me please please please let me know because there is only so much of this i can take :(

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LeanneTC said on 11 January 2012

I have suffered from UTI's since the age of 13. And have tried many things to get rid of them. I find sexual intercourse is the main cause for me. I hate them but it is something I know I have to learn to cope with. Whenever I feel one coming on, I instinctively plan a trip to my doctors, regardless of how long I have had it! When you are prone to it, you just know the symptoms.
Trimethoprim antibiotics are my saviour! They are the only medication that work for me, but of course everyone is different. The only thing I could suggest where pain management is concerned, I find that very hot tea (strangely enough), and drinking water until it makes you feel sick is the best method. But seriously get antibiotics and you won't be suffering for long. Cranberry juice really doesn't help me, but may help prevent infection from returning when it has cleared.
I hope this helps anyone, coming from someone who has suffered for 12 years, oh no it's been that long and i'm only 24:(, I can say i sympathize. The reason i'm commenting is because I currently have a UTI, what better time to give advice :)

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toshymac32 said on 01 August 2011

Hiya, I have had 5 Kidney infections since November last year have been on serious amounts of antibiotics, I was on a weeks worth just recently and when my urine sample went back to the docs on friday they said it still had blood and leukocytes in it, I am so tired, moody, constantly nausious I even took a pregnancy test due to the way I felt (negative) I have 3 young kids a hubby, I work and have a house to see to, I am 33 of healthy weight for 5ft 7inches and its starting to affect my social life as I can never go out and my friends think I am avoiding them, I dont want sex as that has recently been the cause. Im so down and struggling to be a mum and a wife, I have had scans and a laparoscopy, blood tests, nothing just nothing. I drink loads of water and quite paticular on personal hygiene. Sorry folks I just needed a rant xx

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LizzieLou83 said on 09 March 2011

I have suffered from UTIs for 11 years but I have found ways of managing the condition.

1)I do use cranberry tablets and stock up on them when they are on special offer. I take two three times a day and I've seen a decrease in my outbreaks
2)If i get a 'twinge' (you know the feeling that one might be coming), I drink a pint of squash with a teaspoon and a half of bicarbonate of soda. Seems to have worked, apart from this month when it was too late!
3) Go to the loo regularly, don't hold it in, and always go before bed!
4)You HAVE to pee after sex, this is always what sets it off for me
5)Avoid too much orange juice or alcohol, if you are going to make sure you keep hydrated and keep peeing. Good alcohol (yes!!) is vodka with cranberry juice. Avoid alcopops!
6)Know your pee so you can identify if ones lurking, there's a distinct smell!!
7) Drink water all day long and regularly. If you go to a hot country avoid sugary drinks

And just to say, its got nothing to do with being dirty, it's just a curse that some of us have to bear! But it can be managed!

One more tip- don't always rely on your doctor, you can get the antibiotics from walk in's and minor injury units which is often a faster way of getting your hands on the trimethroprime!!

If you are getting them more frequently (I was once every three months the last few years but have managed to have a 8 month break, which is a record!!) talk to your GP and pester to get referred to a urologist

Hope this helps

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Jessy93 said on 22 January 2011

I have had 3 within the past 6 months and it really annoys me because I'm clean, I shower every day, I drink regularly and I don't quite understand why i have started to get them since I can only remember one incident before and that was when I was very young. Any suggestions on how i could prevent them?

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AlisonZ said on 14 July 2010

TommyG : I'm trying to help with you question about what precautions you should take. I self-catheterise myself, and also helped my mother with both bladder and bowel problems. My two suggestions are both easy, quick and fairly cheap:
1. Get disposable gloves. The cheapest are latex - 100 to a box, from any pharmacist. Plastic ones are available if you are allergic to latex. Wash your hands, then put the gloves on before touching anything that may have been in contact with urine or faeces. Use the gloves once only. (Wear two, even if you only use one hand for the job, so you can take off the dirty glove without risk of spreading infection to the other hand.)
2. Get disposable wet wipes - not the 'feminine wipes' that are scented and probably do no good, but anti-bacterial ones - ask a pharmacist and explain why you need them.
Hope that helps.

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TommyG said on 28 April 2010

My Mom has urological problems, and a nurse comes to the house to help her with these <a title="SportAid.com apogee intermittent catheters" href="http://sportaid.com/_search.php?page=1&q=apogee+intermittent">intermittent catheters</a> that my Mom has to use for another few months. Before the nurse leaves, I always ask how to help with cleaning Mom's skin and catheter to ensure that the she receives quality care at all times. But the nurse never says what risks that there might be for me and what precautions I should take. Any advice?

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Sol Billo said on 02 April 2010

Some advice, It is very important to keep clean. For people who have uti on regular basis it is good to drink green tea or cranberry juice.Do NOT take cranberry tablets since they are costly and gives a horrible after taste.

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samanthars said on 07 February 2010

I have had 4 different sets of antibiotics for this, in the past 3 months. It is making me feel depressed, faint, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping (twitching) in my arms and legs when tryna go to sleep ??????

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peterg65 said on 06 February 2010

This feels to be, more female centric, I excpet that females get this, but being a Male who also gets UTI on a regular basis every 3 /4 months it would be nice to have more info for men,

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Lisbet said on 26 January 2010

Great advice - thank you very much. Much appreciated.

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