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Commonly asked questions about Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. They occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and cause inflammation and infection. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for UTIs can help you manage the condition effectively.

What is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that affects the urinary tract. It can occur in any part of the urinary tract, including the bladder (cystitis) , urethra (urethritis), kidneys (pyelonephritis), and ureters. UTIs are caused by bacteria that enter the urinary tract and multiply, leading to inflammation and infection.

What are the Causes of Urinary Tract Infections? Why do I keep getting a UTI?

These are some of the causes or risk factors factors for developing a UTI include:


The most common cause of UTIs is bacteria, specifically E. coli. E. coli is normally found in the digestive system, but when it enters the urinary tract, it can cause an infection. Bacteria can enter the urinary tract through the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body. Women are more likely to get UTIs than men because their urethra is shorter, making it easier for bacteria to enter the bladder. Women who use certain types of birth control, such as diaphragms and spermicidal agents, are at an increased risk of developing UTIs. The decrease in oestrogen levels during menopause can also increase the risk of developing UTIs in post-menopausal women.

Urinary Tract Obstructions

Obstructions in the urinary tract can cause UTIs by preventing urine from flowing freely out of the body. This can lead to a buildup of bacteria and an increased risk of infection. Common urinary tract obstructions include:

  • Kidney stones: hard deposits of minerals and salts that form in the kidneys and can obstruct the urinary tract
  • Enlarged prostate: a condition that affects men, causing the prostate gland to grow and press against the urethra, obstructing urine flow
  • Urethral strictures: a narrowing of the urethra, often caused by scar tissue, that can obstruct urine flow

Sexual Activity

Sexual activity can increase the risk of UTIs by introducing bacteria into the urinary tract. Women are more likely to develop UTIs after sexual activity because bacteria can be pushed into the urethra during intercourse. Therefore, it is important to urinate after sexual activity to flush out any bacteria that may have entered the urinary tract.


Urinary catheters are tubes that are inserted into the bladder to drain urine. Catheters can increase the risk of UTIs by providing a direct route for bacteria to enter the urinary tract. Catheters should be used only when necessary and removed as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection.

Poor Hygiene

Poor hygiene practices can increase the risk of UTIs by introducing bacteria into the urinary tract. For example, wiping from back to front after using the toilet can transfer bacteria from the anus to the urethra. It is important to wipe from front to back to prevent this. In addition, wearing tight-fitting underwear or pants and using irritating products such as douches or powders can also increase the risk of UTIs.

What are the Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections?

The symptoms of UTIs can vary depending on the location and severity of the infection. Some common symptoms include:

Painful or Burning Urination

One of the most common symptoms of a UTI is pain or a burning sensation when urinating. This is often the first sign of an infection and can be very uncomfortable. The pain or burning may be mild or severe and may be accompanied by a sense of urgency to urinate.

Frequent Urination

UTIs can also cause a frequent need to urinate, even if only a small amount of urine is produced. This can be frustrating and can interfere with daily activities. The urge to urinate may be constant, occurring both during the day and at night.

Cloudy or Strong-Smelling Urine

Another symptom of a UTI is cloudy or strong-smelling urine. This is due to the presence of bacteria and other substances in the urine. The urine may also appear pink, red, or brown, indicating the presence of blood in the urine.

Pain in the Lower Abdomen or Back

UTIs can also cause pain in the lower abdomen or back. This may be a dull ache or a sharp pain accompanied by a feeling of pressure in the bladder or rectum.

Fever or Chills

In more severe cases, a UTI can cause fever or chills. This oftem indicates that the infection has spread to the kidneys or bloodstream (sepsis) and requires immediate medical attention.

How are Urinary Tract Infections Diagnosed?

If you experience symptoms of a UTI, your GP may perform several tests to diagnose the condition.

Medical History and Physical Exam

The first step in diagnosing a UTI is a medical history and physical exam. The GP will ask about your symptoms, including how long you have been experiencing them and whether you have had UTIs in the past. They will also perform a physical exam to check for signs of infection, such as tenderness in the abdomen or back.


The most common test used to diagnose a UTI is a urinalysis. This test involves analysing a urine sample to look for signs of infection, such as the presence of bacteria, white blood cells, or red blood cells. The sample is usually collected mid-stream to ensure accuracy.

Urine Culture

If the urinalysis shows signs of infection, a urine culture may be ordered. This test involves growing bacteria from the urine sample in a lab to identify the specific type of bacteria causing the infection. This information is important for determining the best treatment for the infection.

Imaging Tests

In some cases, imaging tests may be ordered to check for complications associated with UTIs, such as kidney stones or an enlarged prostate. These tests may include an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI.


In rare cases, a cystoscopy may be ordered to examine the inside of the bladder and urethra for signs of infection or other issues. This test involves inserting a small camera through the urethra and into the bladder.

What are the Treatment Options for Urinary Tract Infections?


The most common treatment for a UTI is antibiotics. The specific antibiotic prescribed will depend on the type of bacteria causing the infection and the severity of the infection. Antibiotics may be taken orally or, in more severe cases, administered intravenously in a hospital setting.

Pain Relievers

In addition to antibiotics, pain relievers may be prescribed to help alleviate discomfort and pain associated with a UTI. These may include over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or prescription-strength pain relievers.

Increased Fluid Intake

Drinking plenty of fluids is an important part of treating a UTI. This helps flush out bacteria and other harmful substances from the urinary system. Water is the best fluid to drink, but other fluids such as cranberry juice may also be beneficial.

Urinary Tract Analgesics

Urinary tract analgesics are medications that can help relieve pain and discomfort associated with a UTI. These medications work by numbing the bladder and urethra, making it easier and less painful to urinate.

Surgical Intervention

In rare cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to treat a UTI. This may include procedures such as cystoscopy or surgery to remove kidney stones or other obstructions that are preventing urine from flowing properly.

What is the best antibiotic to treat a UTI?

Several types of antibiotics are commonly used to treat UTIs. The choice of antibiotic depends on several factors, including the type of bacteria causing the infection, the severity of the infection, and any allergies or medical conditions the patient may have.

The most commonly prescribed antibiotics for UTIs include:

Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole – This antibiotic is a combination of two drugs that work together to kill bacteria. It is often used as a first-line treatment for uncomplicated UTIs.

Nitrofurantoin (Macrodantin, Macrobid) – This antibiotic is often used to treat uncomplicated UTIs in women and can be used to prevent recurrent UTIs.

Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) – This antibiotic is often used to treat complicated UTIs, including those caused by drug-resistant bacteria.

Amoxicillin/clavulanate (Augmentin) – This combination antibiotic is often used to treat complicated UTIs, as well as UTIs in patients with a history of antibiotic resistance.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of antibiotics can vary depending on the type of bacteria causing the infection, and some bacteria may be resistant to certain types of antibiotics. Your GP or urologist will determine the most appropriate antibiotic based on your case.


Urinary tract infections are a common condition that can cause pain and discomfort. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for UTIs can help you manage the condition effectively. If you experience symptoms of a UTI, talk to your healthcare provider about your treatment options. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications and improve your overall health.

Author: Neil A Haldar MBBS MD FRCS

Consultant Urological Surgeon

The Pelvic Specialists

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