health

So you think you have a UTI?

Image via Flickr

It burns when you pee and you simply have to go every five minutes. Chances are you’ve got a UTI. But what are they, how can you treat them and how can you prevent getting one?

What is a UTI?

As the name implies, a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) is an infection of the urinary tract. The urinary tract runs from the urethra (which is the tube that opens on the outside, near the vagina), up to the bladder (the bit that stores urine). From the bladder the tract then runs up two more tubes (one on each side of your body; called ureters), to your kidneys.

Why do we get UTIs?

While guys can get UTIs, they’re way more common in females. This is because the urethra is much shorter in women (only around four centimetres), meaning it’s easier for bugs to make their way into the bladder and cause an infection.

What does a UTI feel like?

Symptoms of a UTI include a burning pain when passing urine and feeling like you need to pee all the time, even though you may only produce small amounts of urine. You may also have some blood in your urine, or it may be cloudy and smelly.

What should I do if I have one?

While there are some things you can do to feel a bit better (see below), you’ll need to see your GP. This is for two reasons. First up: you need to do a urine sample so it can be tested to identify the exact bug that’s causing your problem. While the main bug that causes UTIs is E.Coli, there are other possible culprits.

To do a urine sample your GP will hand you a sterile (meaning super clean) small plastic container. You’ll likely also be given sterile water wipes (like baby wipes), to wipe yourself from front to back before peeing. Next, you’ll be asked to do what’s known as a ‘mid-stream urine’ sample. This just means that you need to start peeing into the toilet, then mid-way through your stream, you need to pee into that sterile container. You don’t need to fill it up, but it’s good to have a decent amount of urine in there (say, making it 1⁄4-1/2 full).

Your GP will then test your urine to look for signs of infection and, if it looks infected, it will be sent off to the lab to be analysed.

Next, your GP will probably give you a script for antibiotics. Although she won’t know the exact bug responsible for the infection yet, she’ll make an educated guess. Once the results come back from the lab (that takes a good few days), your GP can then call you and advise you to change antibiotics if needed.

Unless you’ve been told to switch antibiotics, once you’ve started a course make sure you finish it. If you don’t you could end up making the bug resistant to treatment. Once you’ve finished your antibiotics, your GP may ask you to do another urine sample to check the infection has cleared.

ADVERTISEMENT

If you have antibiotics at home and think it’s easier just to take one before seeing a doctor, don’t. This is because once you’ve started antibiotics you can’t accurately identify the bug causing the problem, which means you may end up getting worse rather than better.

Lastly, if you keep getting UTIs you need to discuss this with your doctor as you may need further investigations to check for other medical conditions like diabetes.

What can I do before I see my GP?

If you’re in pain, take some painkillers. They won’t interfere with the urine test at all. You can also drink Ural sachets mixed with water (you can buy these from the pharmacy). Ural neutralise your urine so it’s not as acidic and it doesn’t burn as much.

How can I prevent UTIs?

Pee after having sex

During sex, bugs can travel up to your bladder. Emptying your bladder after sex can help flush out those bugs before they take hold and cause an infection.

Eat cranberries

Cranberries help dislodge E.Coli from the lining of your bladder, preventing it from becoming an infection. You can take cranberry in juice form or tablet form. It’s best to chat to your pharmacist about how much you need.

Wipe properly

After peeing, wipe from front to back. Yep, it’s basic hygiene and it’s all about stopping bugs from your backside travelling up to your bladder.

Don’t hold on

If you feel the urge to pee, do it. Peeing can help flush out bugs (if they’re there), preventing them from sticking around too long and causing an infection.

Load up on H2O

Drinking lots of water means you need to pee more, which helps flush out those bugs.

What if I don’t treat my UTI?

Here’s the bad news: if you don’t treat a bladder infection things can get a lot worse. The infection can travel up and take hold in the kidney. If this happens you’ll likely have a fever, and feel sweaty, shaky and sick. Kidney infections can be serious and you’ll probably need to be treated in hospital with IV antibiotics.

So the bottom line is, if you think you have a UTI, get tested and treat it early.

This article was kindly fact-checked by Sydney-based Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr Michael van der Griend (www.drvandergriend.com.au)