Urinary tract infection (UTI)
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common infections that affect the bladder, the kidneys and the tubes connected to them.
Anyone can get them, but they're particularly common in women. Some women experience them regularly (called recurrent UTIs).
UTIs can be painful and uncomfortable, but usually pass within a few days and can be treated with antibiotics.
This page is about UTIs in adults. There is a separate page about UTIs in children.
Complete our self-help guide to check your symptoms and find out what to do next.
Symptoms of UTIs
Infections of the bladder (cystitis) or urethra (tube that carries urine out of the body) are known as lower UTIs. These can cause:
- a need to pee more often than usual
- pain or discomfort when peeing
- sudden urges to pee
- feeling as though you're unable to empty your bladder fully
- pain low down in your tummy
- urine that's cloudy, foul-smelling or contains blood
- feeling generally unwell, achy and tired
You can speak to your pharmacist for advice and treatment on lower UTIs.
Lower UTIs are common and aren't usually a cause for major concern.
Infections of the kidneys or ureters (tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder) are known as upper UTIs. These can cause the same symptoms as lower UTIs and also:
- a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above
- pain in your sides or back
- shivering and chills
- feeling and being sick
- agitation or restlessness
Upper UTIs can be serious if left untreated, as they could damage the kidneys or spread to the bloodstream.
Urgent advice: Speak to your GP urgently if:
You think you, your child or someone you care for may have a urinary tract infection (UTI) and:
- have a very high temperature, or feel hot and shivery
- have a low temperature below 36°C
- are confused or drowsy
- have pain in the lower tummy or in the back, just under the ribs
- can see blood in your pee
If your GP is closed, phone 111.
These symptoms could mean you have a kidney infection, which can be serious if it's not treated as it could cause sepsis.
Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP if:
- you have symptoms of an upper UTI
- your child has symptoms of a UTI
- the symptoms are severe or getting worse
- the symptoms haven't started to improve after a few days
- you get UTIs frequently
- your symptoms come back after treatment
Your GP team can:
- rule out other possible causes of your symptoms by testing a sample of your urine
- prescribe antibiotics if you have an infection
Treatment for UTIs
UTIs are normally treated with a short term course of antibiotics.
Most women are given a 3-day course of antibiotic capsules or tablets. Men, pregnant women and people with more serious symptoms may need a slightly longer course.
Your symptoms will normally pass within 3 to 5 days of starting treatment. Make sure you complete the whole course of antibiotics that you've been prescribed, even if you're feeling better.
Over-the-counter pain relief such as paracetamol can help with any pain. Drinking plenty of fluids may also help you feel better.
Return to your GP if your symptoms don't improve, get worse, or come back after treatment.
Causes of UTIs
UTIs occur when the urinary tract becomes infected, usually by bacteria. In most cases, bacteria from the gut enter the urinary tract through the urethra.
This may happen when wiping your bottom or having sex. But often it's not clear why it happens.
The following may increase your risk of getting a UTI:
- conditions that obstruct your urinary tract, such as kidney stones
- difficulty emptying your bladder fully
- using a contraceptive diaphragm or condoms coated in spermicide
- a weak immune system - for example from chemotherapy or HIV
- a urinary catheter (a tube in your bladder used to drain urine)
- an enlarged prostate gland in men
Women may be more likely to get UTIs because their urethra is shorter than a man's and is closer to their anus (back passage).
There are some things you can do to try to prevent UTIs.
- go to the toilet as soon as you need to pee
- always empty your bladder fully
- stay well hydrated
- wipe your bottom from front to back when you go to the toilet
- pee as soon as possible after having sex
- have a shower rather than a bath
- wear underwear made from cotton, rather than synthetic material such as nylon
- avoid tight jeans and trousers
- do not use perfumed bubble bath, soap or talcum powder around your genitals – use plain, unperfumed ones instead
- do not use a diaphragm or condoms with spermicidal lubricant on them – try another type of contraception
Speak to your GP if these measures don't work.
Drinking cranberry juice or using probiotics aren't proven to reduce your chances of getting UTIs.
13 February 2023
Help us improve NHS inform
Feedback Alert Title