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What is a urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of the urinary system and is usually caused by bacteria.

When a person has a UTI, they need to see a doctor as soon as possible. If left untreated, it can spread to the kidneys and make it very difficult to treat.

What are the signs and symptoms of a UTI?

Signs and symptoms of a UTI may include:

  • a burning feeling when passing urine
  • a feeling that the bladder is still full after going to the toilet
  • passing urine more often than normal
  • lower abdominal pain, especially when passing urine
  • pain in the lower back
  • bad smelling urine
  • urine that is cloudy, bloody or dark
  • chills
  • fever
  • different behaviour to normal (delirium).

Why might someone have a UTI?

Some people are at greater risk than others of developing a UTI. This includes:

  • women, because the urethra is short and the bacteria only needs to travel a short distance from the outside of the body to the bladder
  • people who have regular problems with bowel management
  • people with severe constipation or faecal impaction
  • people who use urinary catheters
  • people who wear continence pads that aren't changed quickly when they are soiled or wet
  • men with prostate problems, because an enlarged prostate gland can stop the bladder from emptying completely
  • women with a prolapse, because their bladder may not be able to empty completely
  • people taking medicines that can interfere with how the bladder works, e.g. some medicines used to treat incontinence and colds
  • people with damage to the bladder nerves, which means the person may not feel a full bladder. They may have problems emptying their bladder from conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson's disease or a spinal cord injury.

How can UTIs be prevented?

Many people find they can avoid UTIs by:

  • drinking plenty of water and other fluids to flush the urinary system
  • washing the genital area regularly
  • changing continence pads quickly when soiled or wet
  • going to the toilet when they feel the need
  • avoiding bowel problems like constipation and diarrhoea
  • wiping from front to back after going to the toilet.

What further treatment might be needed?

They may need to visit a specialist doctor, such as a urogynaecologisturologist or renal physician. They may also want to look at the issue further by:

  • asking the person to keep a bladder or bowel diary. For more information, go to How to fill out a bladder diary or How to fill out a bowel diary.
  • doing urine and blood tests
  • examining men for prostate problems or women for pelvic organ prolapse
  • looking for other medical conditions that may be causing the UTI.

If the person you support has a spinal injury above T6, make sure you know the signs and symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia.

Need more help? Call the National Continence Helpline on 18OO 33 OO 66 and talk to a continence nurse advisor.

Take the Quiz

Question 1

Common signs and symptoms of a UTI are:

a burning feeling when passing urine

needing to go to the toilet more often than normal

cloudy and smelly urine

all of the above.

Question 2

There is a greater risk of having a UTI if the person:

stays up late at night

has problems managing their bowels

is overweight

drinks too much alcohol.

Question 3

Some people can avoid UTIs by:

drinking plenty of fluids

ignoring the need to go to the toilet

ignoring bowel problems

eating a lot of vegetables.

Question 4

For ongoing UTIs, doctors may look into the issues further by:

checking for medical conditions

asking the person to keep a bladder or bowel diary

doing urine and blood tests

all of the above.

This information is not a substitute for independent professional advice.