All About Urinary Tract Infections: UTI Causes, Treatments and Symptoms

Did you know that if you are experiencing bladder weakness, you are also at greater risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs)? There are many different reasons for this. The symptoms of a UTI are varied (bladder pain and pain when urinating can be indicators). The good news is that UTI treatment is readily available in most cases.

What is a UTI?

UTIs can happen when harmful bacteria invade the urinary tract. Usually, the infection is caused by our own bacteria ending up where they don’t belong. The most common of these bacteria is E. Coli, which normally lives in the intestine, and can sometimes invade the urinary tract, which is near the rectal area. However, a number of other bacteria can also be responsible.

What is the difference between lower and upper UTIs?

The most common type of UTI occurs in the lower urinary tract, infecting the urethra and bladder. Highly virulent strains can, if left untreated, spread up to the ureters and kidneys in the upper urinary tract.

Upper UTI symptoms are considerably worse, and may include back pain, nausea and fever. Such a kidney infection is serious and can potentially damage the kidneys or even cause kidney failure. If left untreated it can also lead to urosepsis, which is when the infection enters the bloodstream. This condition requires intensive care.

What are the most common UTI symptoms?

Any symptoms should be checked out straight away, talk to your GP or pharmacist for medication and advice.

• Painful or a burning sensation when urinating

• Frequent urination and constant urge to urinate

• Small amounts of urine each time

• Traces of blood in the urine

• Dark, cloudy or strong-smelling urine

• Feeling cold, but not usually with a fever

• Sudden urinary incontinence

Are UTI symptoms always the same?

Some elderly people who suffer from diabetes mellitus or have a low immune response can have very vague and seemingly unrelated UTI symptoms. These can include general weakness, confusion, nausea, dizziness, sudden incontinence, or increased severity of incontinence. In these cases, it is important to know what's normal, in order for speedy diagnosis and treatment.

Can you catch a UTI?

Informally known as a "water infection", UTIs themselves are not contagious, so you can't catch a water infection from another person. However, urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria which can get into the urethra in several ways and may eventually end up in the bladder. This may then cause a UTI.
Theoretically, it's possible for bacteria to travel from a toilet seat to an open cut in the buttock or thigh and then spread to the urethra. Generally speaking however, it's very unlikely for anyone to get a UTI from a toilet seat.

Can you get a UTI from sex?

Having sex can increase the chances of getting a UTI, as bacteria in the anus or vaginal area may be pushed into the urethra during sea and end up in the bladder. Having anal sex may also increase the chances of developing a UTI.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can cause UTI-like symptoms, such as pain during urination. Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis can also cause an inflammation or the urethra, a condition known as urethritis. Unlike UTIs however, STDs are contagious so make sure you get a proper diagnosis if you're considering having sex.

Can you pass a UTI to your partner?

A UTI isn't an STD, and isn't considered to be contagious. However, the bacteria that causes a UTI may be transferred between partners during sexual intercourse.

Can you have sex with a UTI?

UTI symptoms may be painful and discomforting and can be passed on to your partner, we don't recommend you having sex. Doctors usually recommend avoiding sex until the infection has completely cleared up, as having sex may irritate the tissues around the urinary tract and worsen the infection.

Conditions that can be confused with UTIs

Asymptomatic bacteriuria (also referred to as "friendly" bacteria) in the urinary tract is a harmless condition that should not be treated with antibiotics. These bacteria will show no symptoms except for smelly urine in some people. A simple test can check if there is anything going on.

Who is at risk from UTIs?

UTIs can affect any person at any age, but certain groups are at greater risk.

The main reason women are more susceptible to UTIs has to do with the female anatomy. The urethra in women is shorter than in men and is located close to the anus, meaning bacteria can more easily invade the urinary tract.

Women's oestrogen levels also decline with age. This can cause the walls of the urinary tract to become thinner and drier. The protective mucous membrane, or mucose, also becomes less acidic which reduces its ability to fight off infection. This is why oestrogen hormone treatment is recommended to prevent UTIs.

Other groups at greater risk of getting a UTI are the elderly, people with diabetes mellitus, persons wearing an indwelling catheter.

Not being able to empty the bladder properly can also increase the risk of a UTI, as bacteria can grow in the remaining urine. Causes for residual urine include constipation, outflow obstruction caused by an enlarged prostate or a prolapse, and spinal cord injury or nerve damage, which interferes with the normal functioning of the urinary tract.

Is there a connection between UTI and incontinence?

Urinary incontinence can affect anybody at any age, but it is more common when we get older and in connection with other medical conditions. Therefore, it is not unusual for people with urinary incontinence to have additional problems that contribute to a higher risk of UTI. Some examples include not being able to completely empty the bladder, reduced immune defence functions, and chronic illnesses. Bowel incontinence is another factor that increases the risk of infection.

How to prevent UTIs?

The most important method of UTI prevention is to keep the genital area clean and healthy and able to protect itself against infection. Also, flush out bacteria by staying hydrated. Finally, try to make sure you empty your bladder entirely, since bacteria can thrive in the remaining urine.

Tips on UTI prevention

  1. Good hygiene is the easiest way to prevent a UTI
  2. Wipe from front to back after a toilet visit, to avoid transferring bowel bacteria to the urinary tract
  3. Remove soiled incontinence products from front to back
  4. Don't over-wash or use harsh soap in your sensitive genital area as it can cause imbalance and then cause irritation
  5. Use TENA wash cream to clean if the skin is fragile, and TENA barrier cream for protection
  6. Dry the skin when changing hygiene products since bacteria grow better in moist areas
  7. Make sure to properly hydrate
  8. If you have problems emptying your bladder completely, make sure to sit properly, leaning slightly forward with your feet resting on the floor or footstool. You can also stand up and sit down a few times to get the last drops out.
  9. Use high quality, breathable TENA incontinence products with a dry surface.
  10. Vaginal Oestrogen treatment is often recommended to prevent UTIs - only for certain ages/ types of patients not for everyone.
If you think you have a urinary tract infection, it's important to speak to a medical professional who can prescribe antibiotics to treat your symptoms, and make sure it's not an STD. If you're also struggling with urinary incontinence, take a look at our products for women and men designed to manage bladder leakage.