Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Check if it’s a UTI
Symptoms of a UTI include:
- needing to pee suddenly or more often than usual
- pain or a burning sensation when peeing
- smelly or cloudy pee
- blood in your pee
- pain in your lower tummy
- feeling tired and unwell
- in older people, changes in behaviour such as severe confusion or agitation
UTI symptoms may be difficult to spot in people with dementia.
Children with UTIs may also:
- appear generally unwell – babies may be irritable, not feed properly and have a high temperature (fever) of 37.5C or above
- wet the bed or wet themselves
- deliberately hold in their pee because it stings
See a GP if:
- you’re a man with symptoms of a UTI
- you’re pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI
- your child has symptoms of a UTI
- you’re caring for someone elderly who may have a UTI
- you haven’t had a UTI before
- you have blood in your pee
- your symptoms don’t improve within a few days
- your symptoms come back after treatment
If you have symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection, you can also get treatment from a sexual health clinic.
Ask for an urgent GP appointment if you have:
- pain in your sides or lower back
- a very high temperature or you feel hot and shivery
- felt sick or been sick
These symptoms suggest a kidney infection, which can be serious if it isn’t treated.
What happens at your appointment
You’ll be asked about your symptoms and may need to give a urine sample to confirm you have a UTI.
A urine test helps to rule out other conditions that might be causing your symptoms.
Men are sometimes offered a painless swab test to check for other conditions.
This is where a cotton bud is wiped on the tip of the penis and sent for testing. It won’t hurt but may feel uncomfortable.
Your doctor or nurse may prescribe antibiotics to treat a UTI.
Once you start treatment, the symptoms should start to clear up within 5 days in adults and 2 days in children.
It’s important to finish the whole course of antibiotics, even if you start to feel better.
Some people with a severe UTI may be referred to hospital for treatment and tests. You may need to stay for a few days. Hospital treatment is more likely for men and children with a UTI.
Treating recurring UTIs
If your UTI comes back any time after treatment, you’ll usually be prescribed a longer course of antibiotics.
If you keep getting UTIs and regularly need treatment, your GP may give you a repeat prescription for antibiotics.
Things you can do yourself
Mild UTIs often pass within a few days. To help ease pain while your symptoms clear up:
- take paracetamol – you can give children liquid paracetamol
- place a hot water bottle on your tummy, back or between your thighs
- rest and drink plenty of fluids – this helps your body to flush out the bacteria
It may also help to avoid having sex until you feel better. You can’t pass a UTI on to your partner but sex may be uncomfortable.
Avoid taking NSAIDs like ibuprofen or aspirin if you have a kidney infection. This may increase the risk of kidney problems.
Speak to your doctor before you stop taking any prescribed medication.
Causes of UTIs
UTIs are usually caused by bacteria from poo entering the urinary tract. The bacteria enter through the tube that carries pee out of the body (urethra).
Women have a shorter urethra than men. This means bacteria are more likely to reach the bladder or kidneys and cause an infection.
Causes of UTIs include:
- conditions that block the urinary tract – such as kidney stones
- conditions that make it difficult to fully empty the bladder – such as an enlarged prostate gland in men and constipation in children
- urinary catheters (a tube in your bladder used to drain urine)
- having a weakened immune system – for example, from type 2 diabetes, chemotherapy or HIV
You can’t always prevent UTIs
There are some things you can do to try to prevent a UTI.
- wipe from front to back when you go to the toilet
- try to fully empty your bladder when you pee
- drink plenty of fluids
- take showers instead of baths
- wear loose cotton underwear
- pee as soon as possible after sex
- change your baby’s or toddler’s nappies regularly
There is very little evidence that drinking cranberry juice or using probiotics reduces your chance of getting UTIs.
Urinary tract infections in children
A UTI may be classed as either:
When to seek medical advice
If you think your child is unwell and could have a UTI, contact your GP as soon as possible.
Although UTIs aren’t normally a serious type of infection, they should be diagnosed and treated quickly to reduce the risk of complications.
Symptoms of a UTI in children
It can be difficult to tell whether your child has a UTI, as the symptoms can be vague and young children can’t easily communicate how they feel.
General signs that may suggest your child is unwell include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- tiredness and lack of energy (lethargy)
- poor feeding
- not gaining weight properly
- in very young children, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
More specific signs that your child may have a UTI include:
- pain or a burning sensation when peeing
- needing to pee frequently
- deliberately holding in their pee
- a change in their normal toilet habits, such as wetting themselves or wetting the bed
- pain in their tummy (abdomen), side or lower back
- unpleasant-smelling pee
- blood in their pee
- cloudy pee
Diagnosing UTIs in children
In most cases, your GP can diagnose a UTI by asking about your child’s symptoms, examining them, and arranging for a sample of their pee to be tested.
Treatment usually begins soon after a urine sample has been taken, and your child won’t need any further tests.
In a few circumstances, further tests may be needed in hospital to check for abnormalities. Your GP may refer you straight to hospital if your child is very young.
Read more about diagnosing UTIs in children.
Causes of UTIs in children
Most UTIs in children are caused by bacteria from the digestive system entering the urethra.
There are many ways this can happen, including:
- when a child wipes their bottom and soiled toilet paper comes into contact with their genitals – this is more of a problem for girls than boys because girls’ bottoms are much nearer the urethra
- babies getting small particles of poo in their urethra when they soil their nappies – particularly if they squirm a lot when being changed
There’s often no obvious reason why some children develop UTIs and others don’t.
However, some children may be more vulnerable to UTIs because of a problem with emptying their bladder, such as:
- constipation – this can sometimes cause part of the large intestine to swell, which can put pressure on the bladder and prevent it emptying normally
- dysfunctional elimination syndrome – a relatively common childhood condition where a child “holds on” to their pee, even though they have the urge to pee
- vesicoureteral reflux – an uncommon condition where urine leaks back up from the bladder into the ureters and kidneys; this occurs as a result of a problem with the valves in the ureters where they enter the bladder
Treating UTIs in children
Most childhood UTIs clear up within 24 to 48 hours of treatment with antibiotics and won’t cause any long-term problems.
In many cases, treatment involves your child taking a course of antibiotic tablets at home.
As a precaution, babies under three months old and children with more severe symptoms are usually admitted to hospital for a few days to receive antibiotics directly into a vein (intravenous antibiotics).
Read more about treating UTIs in children.
Preventing UTIs in children
It isn’t possible to prevent all childhood UTIs, but there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of your child getting one.
The following advice may help:
- if possible, exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months after they’re born – this can help improve your baby’s immune system and reduce their risk of constipation
- encourage girls to wipe their bottom from front to back – this helps to minimise the chances of bacteria entering the urethra
- make sure your child is well hydrated and goes to the toilet regularly – not urinating regularly and “holding in” urine can make it easier for bacteria to infect the urinary tract
- avoid nylon and other types of synthetic underwear – these can help promote the growth of bacteria; loose-fitting cotton underwear should be worn instead
- avoid using scented soaps or bubble baths – these can increase your child’s risk of developing a UTI
- take steps to reduce your child’s risk of constipation – make sure they drink enough to keep their urine pale and clear during the day, and speak to your GP about medications that can help if constipation is a persistent problem
Some people feel that drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements can help reduce their risk of UTIs.
However, recent high-quality research into these claims found little evidence to suggest cranberries have a significant impact on your chances of developing a UTI.
Recurrent UTIs in children
A small number of children have recurring UTIs. If your child’s had a UTI before, it’s important that both of you watch for the return of any associated symptoms.
Tell your GP about any symptoms as soon as possible so a diagnosis can be confirmed and treatment can begin.
If your child has a problem that increases their risk of UTIs, such as faulty valves that allow urine to flow the wrong way, they may be prescribed low-dose antibiotics as a long-term measure to prevent further infections.