The most common types of urinary tract infections are bladder infections (also known as cystitis) and urethra infections (also known as urethritis) and up to 90 per cent of UTIs are caused by the bacteria called E.coli, which is normally found in the intestines.
Women are more at risk as a woman has a shorter urethra than a man so bacteria has less of a distance to travel to get into the bladder. Sex, sanitary pads, wiping from back to front and even tight clothing can transfer bacteria into the urethra, leading to an infection.
A constant urge to pass urine, along with a burning sensation when you pass urine are common signs of a urinary tract infection. You may feel a pain or pressure in your lower abdomen, as well as a general feeling of being unwell.
Your urine may look cloudy and have a foul smell and may have traces of blood in it. The infection rarely travels past the urethra or bladder, but it can sometimes reach the kidneys. This can cause a fever, nausea and pain in the lower back.
Your doctor may diagnose a UTI based on your symptoms alone. They may also ask you to provide a mid-stream urine sample in a sterile container for either a dip-stick test or sending off to a laboratory for a full culture.
A cystoscopy is sometimes carried out in more severe, recurrent or complicated cases by a specialist called a urologist. During a cystoscopy, a long thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted into the urethra, this gives your doctor a better view of the urinary tract.
Who gets UTIs?
One in five women will experience a urinary tract infection in their lifetime, although some reports suggest it could be up to 50 per cent.
UTIs are generally less common in men, but an enlarged prostate (a gland located between the penis and bladder) can increase the risk of one occurring along with other urinary problems. Around 75 per cent of men in their seventies have these symptoms.
In men, the bacteria that causes a urinary tract infection may travel into the prostate, leading to inflammation called acute prostatitis. This can cause a number of problems, including pain in the genitals, pelvis and lower back, and difficulty when urinating.
Being over 65 years old can also raise your risk of developing a UTI, for both men and women. Possible causes include cutting back on fluid intake to avoid going to the toilet at night, physical changes to the bladder or prostate, or even catheter use - around 40 per cent of hospital acquired infections are UTIs.
Some people are also more at risk of recurrent urinary tract infection (two or more within six months, or three within a year), higher risk groups include pregnant women, people with kidney stones, those who are frequently constipated, are menopausal or people born with an abnormality in the urinary tract.
UTIs can clear up on their own within a few days, but for many, a short course of antibiotics (usually three days) is the standard treatment. Common drugs prescribed include trimethropim, nitrofurantoin, or amoxicillin.
Urinary tract infection risk can be reduced in women by wiping from front to back after going to the toilet, and urinating after sex. Keeping well hydrated is also key for both men and women of any age.
Many trials have shown cranberry juice or a supplement can significantly reduce the number of urinary infections women suffer, although the evidence is mixed and a Cochrane review concluded it couldn't be recommended for preventing urinary tract infections.
One six-month study by Boston University in 2016, found women who had suffered two UTIs in the past year, who drank 227ml of cranberry juice a day had 40 per cent less UTIs than a control group, with just 39 diagnoses compared with 67 in the placebo group.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.