If you’ve never had a UTI – congratulations. But if you’re constantly picking them up (or curious what they are), read our need-to-know guide
Urinary tract infections affect the urinary tract (not surprisingly). This is the whole system you use to urinate and includes the urethra – the tube that you pee out of – the bladder and the kidneys. When you have a UTI, it can feel like you’re peeing fire. Twenty-seven times a day…
It’s not fun, and can lead to kidney infections if you don’t tackle a UTI in time. So, get the low-down with our guide.
What is a UTI?
Infections occur when bacteria like E. coli, which normally live harmlessly in the bowel, enter the urinary tract where they don’t belong – and start to multiply. The symptoms of a UTI include:
- pain or stinging when you pee
- a need to pee more often
- only passing a small amount of urine when you go
Sometimes, there are traces of blood in the urine. You might also experience aches and pains in your lower abdomen or back.1
The difference between cystitis and UTI
They’re technically the same thing; the word cystitis simply relates to where in the urinary tract the infection has occurred. Cystitis is an infection in the bladder, urethritis is an infection in the urethra, and when the kidneys are involved, it’s just a kidney infection.
Why women are more likely to get UTIs
Men can get UTIs, but women are far more prone to them because of the way the female body is designed: the female urethra is very close to the back passage, meaning bacteria can easily travel from A to B.
While one third of women has experienced a UTI at some point in their life, US statistics estimate that around 100 women in every 100,000 will get them regularly.2 This may be because the distance between their anus and urethra is shorter than average. Women who don’t regularly get cystitis had a gap of 5cm, while those that do had a gap of just 4.8cm.3 Yep, just 2mm difference can cause all of that agony.
What else triggers a UTI?
It could be down to the bacteria balance in the bladder. A 2018 study from Loyola University in the US has discovered that, just like the gut, the bladder has its own microbiome, where healthy strains of bacteria prevent less helpful ones from taking over.4 This bladder microbiome may be out of balance in women who suffer recurrent infections.
A fall in oestrogen levels around menopause also alters bacteria balance – specifically, it reduces levels of protective Lactobacillus. This means women might find they develop more frequent UTIs as they get older. Diabetes also alters the bacteria balance, so those with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes can be more susceptible.5
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Reduce your risk of UTIs
While you can’t do much about the menopause or the way your body is designed, you can reduce the chances of bacteria getting into your urethra in the first place.
- wipe from front to back – this is one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent UTIs
- pee after sex – bacteria can move around during sex, but peeing can reduce your risk of developing a UTI
- ditch the thongs – these lie closer to the genitals than other styles and can act like a ‘bacteria bus’, shuttling bugs from back to front as you walk
Other prevention tips include upping your cranberry intake and eating more foods that contain friendly bacteria.
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Tackle the symptoms of a UTI
Many UTIs will pass by themselves without needing antibiotics, but it’s important to drink plenty of water while your body fights the infection. This helps flush out the bacteria, and makes urine less concentrated so it’s less irritating.
You may also want to consider taking D-mannose. This particular type of sugar can stop bacteria sticking to the walls of the urinary tract, making it easier for you to pass them out. A study by University Sapienza of Rome discovered D-mannose can reduce UTI symptoms and also cut the risk of recurrence when used for six months.6
If you get a UTI when pregnant, don’t try to tackle things alone. See your GP, as a urinary infection that reaches the kidneys can pose a risk to the baby.
You should also see your GP if you notice blood in your urine or if your symptoms don’t improve after two to three days. Ask for an urgent appointment if you get pain in your sides or lower back, develop a temperature or get an upset stomach/start vomiting7 – this can be a sign that the infection has reached the kidneys and should always be taken seriously.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. NHS Choices. Urinary tract infections (UTIs). Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-tract-infections-utis/
2. Suskind AM, et al. Incidence and management of uncomplicated recurrent urinary tract infections in a national sample of women in the United States. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822518/
3. Minardi D, et al. Urinary tract infections in women: etiology and treatment options. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3108201/
4. Thomas-White K, et al. Culturing of female bladder bacteria reveals an interconnected urogenital microbiota. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-03968-5
5. As Source 3
6. Domenici L, et al. D-mannose: a promising support for acute urinary tract infections in women. A pilot study. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27424995
7. As Source 3