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Understanding Incontinence

UTI Symptoms and Treatments

Whether it’s a one-off or reoccurring issue, a urinary tract infection (UTI) affects people of any gender but is often associated with women. Left untreated, sufferers can become very unwell, so learn about the symptoms, treatments, risks and how best to avoid urinary tract infection.

Published by Niraj Bhandari
a woman in discomfort due to a UTI

What is the urinary tract?

The complete urinary tract, or renal system, consists of the kidneys, ureters, the bladder and urethra.

The kidneys filter the blood at a rate of about half a cup a minute, removing waste products and excess water. These combine to become urine, which runs through the ureters to the bladder for storage. The bladder contains a series of nerves which send messages to the brain when it needs voiding.

When we get these messages and go the toilet, bladder muscles contract and the sphincter relaxes to allow urine to be released and exit the body through the urethra.


What is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)?

Technically, a urinary tract infection (UTI) describes an infection of any part of the urinary tract, including:

  • The urethra, medically known as urethritis
  • The bladder or cystitis
  • The kidneys – also called Pyelonephritis


The infection is sequential, starting in the urethra and, if it doesn’t resolve, travels up to cause a bladder infection. If that’s also left untreated or goes unnoticed, it can then proceed to the kidneys. A kidney infection can cause permanent damage and leave you feeling extremely unwell, so if you suspect any infection in your urinary tract book an appointment with your GP.

Informally, the term UTI is typically used to describe an infection of the urethra, so that will be the focus for this article.


What causes a UTI?

Although bacteria are present in the urethra, they’re in small numbers and regularly flushed out when urinating. When a more significant number take hold and begin to multiply rapidly, it becomes an infection.

The bacterium associated with around 80% of UTIs is Escherichia coli, also known as E. coli. This bug is found in the digestive system and can be transferred from the anus to the urethra, causing an infection. It’s perhaps also worth noting that a United States study showed that the incidence of UTIs among homosexual men was the same as their heterosexual counterparts. The second most common bacterial cause of UTI is Staphylococcus Saprophyticus, which occurs on the skin and again, makes its way into the urethra.

Recent research published on the ScienceDaily website in 2017 claims that the vaginal bacterium, Gardnerella vaginalis, can triggers E. coli already hiding in the bladder to cause another UTI. This discovery may go some way to further explain the association between sexual activity and UTIs. It may also be a clue as to why some women experience reoccurring urinary tract infections.


Common symptoms of UTI for both men & women

Infections of the urinary tract can result in redness and irritation (inflammation), which can cause some of the symptoms listed below for both men and women:

  • Severe pain when urinating, sometimes described as a burning sensation or even passing razor blades
  • Frequent urgent urges to urinate, but then passing only a very small quantity. This symptom of UTI can also result in incontinence
  • Foul-smelling urine


Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection in women

Women are 30 times more likely to experience a UTI than men, and in fact, half of all females will develop a UTI at some stage in their life. For some, it’ll be a once of occurrence, but for others, it will be debilitatingly regular.

Symptoms and severity can vary by individual, but here are the common ones associated with a UTI

If the infection has reached the kidneys, fever, nausea, chills, and even vomiting may occur.


Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection in men

Like women, the symptoms and their severity can vary, so don’t discount a UTI if you don’t have all of the following. If you suspect that you might have a UTI, make an appointment with your doctor as it’s unlikely to resolve itself and can lead to the more severe infection of the kidneys.

UTI symptoms can occur quite suddenly and include:

  • Pain in the lower back or just above the pelvic bone – in some cases it will be both
  • Cloudy or blood-stained urine. This is less common and if often a sign that the infection has progressed to the kidneys

Men can also experience an infection of the prostate gland, medically called prostatitis, which can have similar symptoms to a UTI. The prostate is part of the reproductive system, not the urinary tract, but as the urethra passes through it, any infection can be transmitted between the systems. Symptoms for this include:

  • Pain in the lower back, abdomen or between the scrotum and rectum
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Painful urination


Risks of contracting a UTI

There are many reasons why women develop UTIs. Some of the risks can be mitigated, while others are just a part of gender. Risks include:

  • Being female: Although anyone can develop a UTI, woman and girls are particularly prone. In fact, women are affected about 30 times more often than men, and roughly one in five women experiences a UTI in her lifetime (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica). The proximity of the anus and vagina to the urethra, and its short length are thought to explain this.
  • Genetic predisposition: This can manifest in two ways; anatomically (the urethra’s angle and length as well as the proximity of its opening to the vagina and anus), and the immune system’s ability to fend off the bacteria quickly and efficiently.
  • Menopause: The decline in oestrogen is thought to alter the composition of the urethra wall, making women over 50 more prone to UTIs.
  • Sexual activity: The correlation is solid, with the American website Everyday Health claiming that “almost 80 percent of premenopausal women with a UTI have had sex within the previous 24 hours.” With the urethra positioned between the vagina and the clitoris, it comes into contact with various bacteria during sexual activity. Further, new or multiple partners also increase the risk.
  • Physical contraceptives: Spermicides (including pre-treated condoms), IUDs and diaphragms are known to increase the incidence of urinary tract infections.
  • Other known risks of UTI include:
    • Using a catheter (a flexible tube inserted through the urethra to the bladder to drain urine)
    • A suppressed immune system from HIV or diabetes
    • A blockage or restricted urine flow from kidney or bladder stones, injury or operation
    • Faecal incontinence
    • Poor hygiene
    • Pregnancy


How can we reduce the risks of UTI?

By being conscious of particular actions, you can reduce the risks of developing a UTI. Even following all these precautions, some women are very predisposed and will continue to suffer reoccurring events. So don’t ever feel it’s your fault.

Practice good toilet habits

  • Always wipe from front to back to avoid contamination from the anus to the urethra – even if you’re only urinating
  • Drink plenty of water (around two litres a day – more if you’re exercising or it’s warm) to ensure you’re urinating up to six times a day, flushing out bacteria
  • Empty your bladder when you feel the urge, don’t hold on. Retained urine can create an environment that encourages bacteria to multiply. Try not to rush and make sure you’ve emptied your bladder completely. Some women find standing up and sitting down again can help with this


Practice good sexual hygiene

  • Clean the anal and genital area of both partners before having sex
  • Pass urine immediate afterwards to flush out bacteria
  • Some women have discovered certain positions of intercourse are more likely to trigger a UTI. Pay attention to what you’re doing, and if a UTI develops, you might also be able to make a link
  • Take care with acts that move from the anus to vagina or vice versa
  • Choose condoms without spermicide and if you use an IUD or diaphragm and are suffering reoccurring infections, talk to your health care professional about alternatives
  • Although homosexual men are no more likely to experience a UTI than heterosexual men, everyone should practice good sexual hygiene to reduce the risk of any infection


General tips

  • Take a shower instead of a bath
  • Wear cotton or bamboo underwear and loose pants. Man-made fibres, leggings, tight jeans and pants can all create a warm moist environment in the area, again encouraging bacteria to multiply and take hold

Keep in mind though, that even following all of these precautions, women in particular, are still very predisposed to UTIs and can continue to suffer reoccurring events. Never feel that it’s your fault.


Warning: UTIs can be asymptomatic in children and the elderly

In the case of young children and the elderly, the familiar symptoms experienced by women (listed above) may or may not be present, so keep an eye out for the following UTI symptoms:

  • The sudden onset of confusion
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • And in extreme cases in elderly, delirium

So, if you’re caring for someone who becomes unwell, it may be a UTI, and you must seek immediate medical advice.


What are the treatments of urinary tract infection?

Although 25- 42% of uncomplicated cases resolve themselves, you shouldn’t rely on a UTI going away on its own. Left unmonitored, it can reach your kidneys, causing permanent damage and making you very unwell. Other conditions can also add complication.

Treatment of a urinary tract infection (UTI) is simple, non-invasive and effective – so make an appointment to see your GP.

After discussing your UTI symptoms, the doctor will test a urine sample to determine the bacteria causing the infection and prescribe a course of oral antibiotics.

If you’re experiencing severe discomfort, ask your doctor about pain relief while the antibiotics kick in.

Make sure you keep drinking plenty of water to help flush out the infection and should notice an improvement within two or three days.

Treatment of UTI is very straight forward, but as often highlighted in the media, repeated use of antibiotics is less than ideal. For that reason, where you can, take steps to avoid contracting a UTI in the first place.


How do we manage leaks because of UTI?

If the sudden urge to pass urine is catching you out, a TENA liner could be the solution for women or a TENA Shield for men. They’re both very thin, discreet and comfortable and ideal for a small leak.

Like all TENA products, liners and Shields are specifically designed to handle the thin, fast flow of a weak bladder. They rapidly absorb and lock away fluid, keeping you dry, odour free and feeling confident until the antibiotics take effect.

For more protection, take advantage of our Product Finder Tool, and Free Samples to find the product that best suits your needs,






Asaleo Care makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional, medical or other health professional advice.