Urinary tract infection (UTI)

A urinary tract infection (UTI, or bladder infection) is an infection that can affect any part of the urinary system, but is most common in the lower urinary tract, made up of the urethra and bladder.

UTI causes are almost always bacterial, specifically infection by the E. coli bacterium. Women are particularly susceptible because of the shorter distance from the anus (where E. coli is often present) to the opening of the urethra and from urethra to bladder.

Included in the risk factors for UTI is sexual intercourse, with studies indicating that 75 to 90 percent of bladder infections in young sexually active women are from sex.

What are its symptoms?

UTI symptoms can range from barely noticeable to severe and when treated properly, usually last about six days. These include:

  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Frequent urination or frequent urge to urinate, even though little may be passed
  • Cloudy urine
  • Discoloured urine
  • Urine with a strong odour
  • Pain in the lower back or abdomen
  • Fever or chills: this is often a sign that the infection has reached the kidneys, which can be serious.

How is it diagnosed?

A UTI diagnosis is usually very straightforward, as a healthcare provider will generally be able to identify the condition based on the symptoms. A laboratory test of a urine sample will be able to confirm the diagnosis. This test looks for red and white blood cells in the urine, as well as for bacteria.

It’s important to see a doctor if you have symptoms of a UTI, as left untreated it can spread to the kidneys, resulting in a condition called pyelonephritis, which can lead to permanent kidney damage or kidney failure.

What are your treatment options?

UTI treatment usually involves a course of oral antibiotics to clear up the bacterial infection. The type of antibiotic and duration of the course will depend on the patient’s specific needs and the severity of the infection – if it has reached the kidneys, intravenous antibiotics may be required.

In cases of frequent infections after sex, a doctor may prescribe a single-dose antibiotic only to be used after sexual activity.

Some research indicates that cranberry juice can play a role in clearing UTIs but its efficacy is still unclear, so only use it as a supplement to conventional medical treatment with antibiotics.

Can it be prevented?

Implementing good lifestyle habits may assist in preventing UTIs. These include drinking plenty of water to ensure frequent urination to flush bacteria out of the urinary tract, wiping from front to back when using the toilet to prevent bacteria from the anus area from spreading to the urethra, and emptying the bladder as soon after sex as possible to flush away bacteria.

If you need advice on how to prevent and treat a UTI, be sure to consult with your doctor and Clicks pharmacist.

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The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in January 2015