Urine infections can appear seemingly out of the blue, and it’s not always clear what caused them. Here we look at some of the most common cystitis and urinary infection symptoms, as well as how to tell them apart, how to treat them, and when to visit your GP.

What is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection – often abbreviated to UTI – is an infection that affects an area of your urinary system, be it the bladder, kidneys, ureters or urethra. There can be a number of causes of cystitis, it typically occurs when bacteria enter the urinary tract and begin to multiply. While the urinary system has defences designed to keep out bacteria, they’re not always 100% effective.

For the most part, UTIs tend to affect the bladder or urethra. It all depends on which microbes are present. Women have a much higher risk of developing a UTI than men due to having a shorter urethra.

Sometimes UTIs will go away by themselves but left too long, the infection may end up spreading to the kidneys. Therefore, it’s worth seeking treatment if symptoms persist. Unlike STDs, UTIs are not transmitted via intercourse and are rarely contagious to sexual partners.

Signs of a water infection

To identify whether or not you have a UTI, watch out for the following symptoms:

  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Strong-smelling urine
  • Urinating more than usual
  • Waking in the night to urinate
  • Cloudy urine
  • An urgent need to urinate
  • Feeling tired or shaky

If you’re also experiencing lower back pain, abdominal (tummy) pain, nausea, blood in the urine, or signs of a fever, you may have a kidney infection, in which case you should see your GP.

If you’re a carer, keep in mind that UTI symptoms can be difficult to identify in people with dementia. Keep an eye out for changes in behaviour, such as being more confused or agitated than normal.

How to tell the difference between cystitis and a UTI

Cystitis is a type of UTI that causes inflammation in the bladder. It’s very common, particularly in women. The good news is that, while painful and frustrating, mild cases will often get better by themselves. Unfortunately, some women experience episodes of cystitis on a regular basis and require more long-term cystitis treatment.

What are the symptoms of cystitis?

  • A stinging sensation while urinating
  • A constant need to urinate
  • Urine that’s dark or cloudy
  • Getting up in the night to urinate

When to see your doctor:

  • If you're not sure whether you have cystitis
  • If your symptoms don't improve within a few days
  • If you're pregnant
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Feeling achy and tired

Symptoms of a urine infection in men

Urine infections are much more common in women than men – over half will experience at least one UTI during their lifetime. However, for men under 50, UTIs may affect only 5-8 out of every 10,000. Over 50, the risk is slightly higher. Men who are circumcised have a lower risk.

Signs of a bladder infection in men include:

  • Urinating more than usual
  • A persistent urge to urinate
  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Cloudy, strong-smelling urine
  • Having trouble urinating at all

While bladder infections are less common in men, when they do occur, they can be a sign of something more serious. The following conditions are linked to an increased risk of UTIs.

  • Enlarged prostate
  • Kidney stones
  • Urethral stricture
  • Recent catheterization or cystoscopy

It is important that men with a urine infection seek treatment from their GP. As it is less common for men to suffer from a UTI, they also tend to be more serious when they do happen. This means a longer, or different, course of antibiotics to the normal ones given to women with simple cystitis.

Antibiotics for urine infections

The first line of defence against UTIs is often painkillers and urine alkalising sachets, which help to make urine less acidic and reduce the stinging sensation.

The next line of treatment is to take prescription antibiotics like Trimethoprim. Taken twice daily over the course of three days, this is usually enough to resolve most uncomplicated infections. It can be safely taken with other over-the-counter cystitis treatments and painkillers. Women over the age of 65 or those with more severe symptoms should see thier GP and they may require a longer course of antibiotics.

Need to know more? Visit our advice area or contact the support team.

Related Guides

Cystitis Causes, Symptoms & Can You Cure It For Good?

Donald Grant
Written by Dr Donald Grant

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