Introduction 

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.

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

Page last reviewed: 17/07/2014

Next review due: 17/07/2016