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A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a common complaint that affects women of all ages. According to studies, as many as one-half of all women are likely to experience at least one in their lifetime. While the condition is most often associated with women, it is important to understand that men can also suffer from UTIs so the symptoms should certainly not be dismissed. Children may also experience urinary tract infections, although the symptoms may be less specific than in an adult.

In general, a UTI is unpleasant but usually responds quickly to appropriate treatment from a medical professional. Initially, the infection is likely to affect the urethra (the tube through which urine passes) or the bladder, but if left untreated may transfer to the kidneys and become significantly worse. An untreated UTI in an elderly person, a young child, or a patient with a compromised immune system could have very serious consequences.

Women are more frequently affected by urinary tract infections as their urethra is shorter than in men, meaning bacteria can travel more easily to the bladder where they cause infection. For this reason, good toilet hygiene will help to prevent bacteria from being spread to the opening of the urethra. UTIs also commonly affect pregnant women, with almost one third of pregnant women suffering from a UTI, according to this study. Early treatment is essential to prevent the illness from causing complications.

UTIs are not contagious so cannot be passed from one person to another.

Symptoms of UTIs

Fortunately, the main symptoms of a urinary tract infection are relatively easy to spot, so early intervention is possible.

The main symptoms in both women and men are:

  • A burning sensation when urinating;
  • Urine that is cloudy, bloody, or emits an unpleasant smell. Bear in mind that urine is usually darker first thing in the morning, so this in itself is not a cause for concern, while blood in the urine may be difficult to spot;
  • An increased need to urinate, often with only a few drops being passed;
  • A high temperature, chills, or feeling generally unwell.

It is worth noting that less specific symptoms may also be present that might not be obviously related to a UTI, such as feeling unusually tired, or pain in the abdomen or lower back. In babies and children, there may be vomiting, reluctance to feed, loss of appetite and, in recently trained toddlers, a sudden return to wetting.

A child or elderly person who is suffering from dementia may not be able to fully explain their symptoms so a UTI should be suspected if other causes of being unwell cannot be identified.

Treatment of UTIs

If you experience symptoms of a urinary tract infection, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible. You may be asked to provide a sample of urine which will be tested at the surgery. If it shows signs of an infection, you may be prescribed a short course of antibiotics to kill the bacteria. It is vital to complete the course of antibiotics, even if you feel better or the symptoms disappear promptly.

You can also help to improve the chance of a quick recovery by drinking plenty of water. This study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that increased daily water intake also had a protective effect against recurrent UTIs.

Your doctor may send your sample of urine to the local laboratory so that the bacteria can be cultured to identify them. This will ensure that the prescribed antibiotics are the most appropriate ones for that specific bacteria.

Urinary tract infections are common, and many people will experience them in their lifetime, sometimes repeatedly. Being aware of the main symptoms will ensure you are seen quickly by a medical professional and given the appropriate UTI treatment.

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