What women need to know about UTI

April 23, 2021

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is no joke. The painful and challenging symptoms associated with a UTI can get in the way of your daily life. And they sometimes become serious enough to require hospitalisation.

UTIs are very common. Almost 50% of women will have at least one UTI during their life. And women are at least 8 times more likely to get a UTI than men (with just 5% of men experiencing a UTI during their lifetime).

The good news is that there are ways to treat, manage and prevent UTIs – and we’re here to help you do just that.

What is a UTI?

A UTI happens when bacteria (or germs) infect any part of your urinary system. This includes your:

  • Bladder
  • Urethra (the channel from your bladder to the outside of your body)
  • Ureters (urine tubes that connect your kidneys to your bladder)
  • Kidneys

The bladder and urethra are the most common sites of infection. If left untreated, UTIs can lead to kidney infection which can be very serious and even life threatening.

What are the symptoms of UTIs in women?

Men and women can experience slightly different UTI symptoms. You can find out more about how men experience UTI here.

The signs of a UTI in your bladder or urethra (lower tract UTI) can be different to those in your kidneys or ureters (upper tract UTI).

Women who get a lower tract UTI may:

  • Experience pain or burning when urinating
  • Pass small amounts—just a few drops—of urine often, or with urgency
  • Pass urine before getting to the toilet (leaking or incontinence)
  • Feel like the bladder is still full, even after urinating
  • Have urine that is smelly, bloody, cloudy or darker than normal
  • Feel discomfort in your lower abdomen or pelvic area
  • Experience fever
  • Pain and tenderness in the upper back and sides

Women who get an upper tract UTI may experience:

  • Pain and/or tenderness in the upper back and sides
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Upper tract UTIs can be more serious than lower tract UTIs.

If you are pregnant and start displaying symptoms of a UTI, see a doctor right away. UTIs during pregnancy can cause high blood pressure and premature delivery. UTIs during pregnancy are also more likely to spread to the kidneys.

What causes UTI in women?

Bacteria are the usual culprits of UTI, and they can enter the urinary system in a number of ways. Primarily, it is the bacteria that naturally occur around the vagina and anus that cause UTI in women. The risk of bacteria causing a UTI is higher for several reasons.

  1. Women have a shorter urethra which is very close to both the vagina and the anus. And since bacteria can more easily access the urethra, infection becomes more likely.
  2. Sexual intercourse: pressure on the female urinary tract during sexual intercourse can move bacteria from around the anus into the bladder.
  3. Menopause: low estrogen levels following menopause can alter the normal bacteria in your vagina. This may increase the risk of a UTI.
  4. Reduced pelvic floor strength can also be a risk factor.
  5. Using spermicides can cause skin irritation in some women. This increases the risk of bacteria entering the bladder.

Women sometimes wonder if they should avoid sexual intercourse during a UTI. It’s probably best since the sensitivity caused by the UTI may make sex too painful to enjoy, and may even make the UTI worse.

How to treat: do I need antibiotics for UTI?

Antibiotic treatment is the typical medical therapy for UTI. The type of antibiotic that your doctor prescribes will depend on:

  • What infection you have (an upper tract UTI or lower tract UTI)
  • The type of bacteria causing the UTI

Follow your doctor’s direction on when, how, and for how long you need to take your antibiotics for UTI. If you don’t take them as directed, they may not be as effective.

To speak with an InstantScripts GP:

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To request a script:

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If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of a UTI, talk to an InstantScripts Doctor.  As experts in women’s health, we will provide discrete care and appropriately prescribe antibiotics to help you get rid of your UTI.

Why do I keep getting UTIs?

Many UTIs are short-lived and treatable. But some women experience repeated episodes of UTI, even with treatment. Sometimes, the bacteria causing the UTI are resistant to antibiotics. Other times, it is the natural shape and position of the urethra and bladder that increases the risk of getting a UTI.

You could have recurrent UTI if you have:

  • 2 or more UTIs within 6 months, or
  • 3 or more UTIs within 1 year

You should check with a doctor about treatments for recurrent UTI.

How to avoid getting a UTI

It is possible to make some lifestyle adjustments to help prevent UTIs. Women may find these tips particularly helpful:

  • Drink plenty of fluids (around 8 glasses of water per day). Your urine should be a pale yellow colour.
  • Don’t delay going to the toilet when you need to and make sure to empty your bladder completely.
  • Urinate immediately after sexual intercourse, especially if you’ve found this to trigger UTI in the past
  • Always wipe from front to back following bowel movements, or after urinating
  • Wear cotton underwear. Bacteria thrive in warm, moist areas, and cotton underwear can help wick away moisture

Women can also lower their risk of contracting a UTI by:

  • Promptly treating any vaginal infections (such as thrush or STIs)
  • Avoiding spermicide-containing products, particularly diaphragms
  • Avoiding constipation (which prevents proper bladder emptying)

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