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Everything you need to know about urinary tract infections

PA Photo/iStock.

By Liz Connor
From a burning sensation when you pee to bladder pain that leaves you doubled over, contracting a urinary tract infection can be pretty miserable.

Statistics have found that women are more likely to suffer from UTIs than men, especially when young, during pregnancy and during the menopause, but they can strike men too.

That being said, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), up to 15% of women suffer yearly from a UTI and at least 25% have one or several recurrences. Different infections can affect different parts of your urinary tract, including your bladder (cystitis), urethra (urethritis) or kidneys (kidney infection).
Doctors typically treat urinary tract infections with antibiotics.

What causes UTI's?
It seems some people are simply more prone to UTIs than others, but experts believe there are steps you can take at home to reduce your chances of getting one in the first place.

UTI's are thought to caused by bacteria entering the bladder through the urethra and it can occur for a number of reasons, such as not emptying your bladder fully when urinating, wiping back to front after going to the toilet and dehydration.

Hormonal changes such as the menopause or pregnancy can contribute towards the development of a UTI, as oestrogen plays a vital role in the health of the lower genital tract, including the bladder.

Not drinking enough water can also play a part too, as this can cause dehydration, which makes the urine more concentrated. This can irritate the urethra and can make passing urine more painful.

Sex might also be a factor. "Infection is more common post-sex as intercourse means that you are more likely to get bacteria into the urethra, whether you use protection or not," says gynaecologist Tania Adib. "This is why we advise that women pass urine after sex to prevent an episode."

What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms of a UTI are a stinging or burning sensation when passing urine, a need to pass urine frequently and urgently, dark, cloudy or odorous urine and abdominal or back pain.

In some cases, women may experience a fever, temperature or weakness, reduced sex drive and discomfort during sex.

UTI's are usually more of a nuisance (but can be painful) than a cause for serious concern, but if left untreated, Adib says that they can lead to more serious and potentially life-threatening issues like kidney infections.

What can I do to prevent a UTI?
For mild infections, try drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry capsules, as some studies have found that cranberries can make it more difficult for bacteria to stick to the bladder wall.

"Wearing underwear that's too tight can trap moisture in the intimate areas and allow infections to take hold," says Adib.

"Cotton knickers are best for your gynaecological health, because many synthetic fibres contain harsh chemicals that can be very irritating to the vulva. If you feel comfortable doing so, stop wearing knickers at night."

Antibiotics are used for treatment and prevention of recurrent UTIs, but repeated use is thought to be a cause of thrush and digestive problems, and antibiotic resistance is an increasing concern.

In a bid to try and prevent further episodes, try and support your microbiota by cutting out artificial sweeteners, limiting alcohol, eating enough fibre and taking steps to manage stress.

The NHS also advise wiping from front to back when you go to the toilet, trying to fully empty your bladder when you urinate, taking showers instead of baths and changing your baby's or toddler's nappies regularly.

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