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A consumer information pamphlet on urinary tract infections
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection involving any part of the urinary system. The urinary system is comprised of two kidneys, and two tubes called ureters, which join the kidneys to the bladder. The urinary system filters blood to eliminate waste and fluid from the body (as urine). The urine leaves the kidneys through the ureters and enters the bladder. Urine is stored in the bladder until you get the urge to urinate. Urine leaves the body through a tube called the urethra.
Infection most commonly occurs in the bladder (cystitis) but can also occur in the urethra (urethritis), the kidneys (pyelonephritis), or a combination of these.
Sometimes germs can enter the urinary system through the urethra. Most UTIs are caused by bacteria that usually live harmlessly in the gut (e.g., E. coli). If these bacteria spread, from the anus to the urethra, they can get into the urinary system and cause an infection.
If you have no symptoms of a UTI but your urine is cloudy, you probably do not need to see a doctor or get antibiotics. If you have symptoms of a UTI such as burning pain or needing to go to the toilet more frequently, make an appointment with your doctor.
Bladder infections can be treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated the infection may spread to your kidneys (pyelonephritis) which is a serious infection and needs immediate treatment.
If your child has symptoms of a UTI you should see a doctor as it may indicate a more serious condition.
A doctor may diagnose a UTI based on your symptoms. A urine test in the doctor’s surgery (urine dipstick) can provide evidence to support the diagnosis of a UTI. A urine sample will usually be sent to a laboratory to identify the specific cause of the infection and to help determine the correct antibiotic for treatment.
Proven UTIs can usually be treated effectively with antibiotics. It is important to complete the full course that your doctor has prescribed, even if you are feeling better. If the full course is not completed, this can lead to antimicrobial resistance (see below). If your symptoms do not improve, or only improve slightly, then you will need to see your doctor again.
It is important to drink plenty of water while you are taking antibiotics to treat your UTI, in order to flush your urinary system. Make sure you empty your bladder completely each time you urinate.
Paracetamol (e.g., Panadol®) or ibuprofen (e.g., Nurofen®) may be used to help relieve the pain or burning sensation when passing urine. The effectiveness of urinary alkalinisers (e.g., Ural®) in reducing symptoms is not clear. Ask your doctor or pharmacist before using a urinary alkaliniser as they reduce the effectiveness of some antibiotics.
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when germs become resistant to the effects of antimicrobials (such as antibiotics). Taking antibiotics when they are not required can increase the risk of antimicrobial resistance occurring, which means that the antibiotics may not work in the future, making infections harder to treat. Antimicrobial resistance is increasing and is caused by the overuse of antimicrobials or not using them as directed by your doctor. This is why it is important to use antibiotics only for a proven UTI and under the instruction of your doctor.
Disclaimer: The health information contained on this webpage is designed for general educational purposes only. Consult with your doctor or other healthcare professional to make sure that this information is right for you.