Urinary tract infection in women

If you’re a woman, there’s a reasonable chance you’ve already experienced, or will at some point experience, a urinary tract infection (UTI). Roughly one in five women will deal with a UTI in her lifetime. If you’ve had it once, it’s also likely you’ll get it again. Find out more about UTIs in women here, and get tips on how to recognize an infection, and ease symptoms.

What is a urinary tract infection?

A UTI is caused when bacteria invade the urinary tract causing an infection that is both unpleasant and painful, and for many people a recurring problem. 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. Staphylococcus saprophyticus is often a source of infection among younger women, and a number of other bacteria can also be responsible. 

Causes of UTI in women

Women are at a higher risk than men, and this has primarily to do with anatomy. The female urethra is relatively short and is also located close to the anus, from where bacteria can invade the urinary tract.

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

UTI symptoms in women

  • Feeling of pain or burning when urinating
  • Constant need to go to the toilet, as well as frequent urination
  • Small amounts of urine each time
  • Traces of blood in the urine
  • Strong-smelling urine, or urine that is dark, or cloudy
  • Feeling cold, however, often not with an actual fever
  • Sudden urinary incontinence

Types of urinary tract infection in women

There are two different types of UTI that women can experience: Lower UTI and Upper UTI.

When an infection affects the urethra and bladder, it is called a Lower UTI. If the bacteria spread to the ureters and kidneys, they cause an Upper UTI. If they do, the symptoms will get considerably worse with e.g. back pain, nausea and fever. These infections are potentially serious since they can cause damage to the kidneys and even kidney failure if left untreated. Eventually they can also lead to urosepsis, an infection of the blood stream that requires intensive care.

How do you get rid of a urinary infection?

Most infections are effectively treated with antibiotics. Often a urine test is done to see which bacteria has caused the infection and then which antibiotic that will be most effective. In healthy women, mild infections can be cured spontaneously, but if you are experiencing severe symptoms of a UTI you should seek medical help.

What can you do to relieve symptoms of an ongoing UTI?

  • Stay hydrated in order to flush the bacteria out of the bladder
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID*) can ease pain, and reduce fever and inflammation
  • You can also use a heating pad and place it on your lower back or stomach to relieve the pain

How to prevent urinary tract infection before it takes hold

The most important method of 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 ensure you empty your bladder entirely, as bacteria can thrive and multiply in the remaining urine.

You may frequently encounter advice about how to prevent UTIs, much of which has not been backed up by science — at least not yet. But there’s no harm in trying sensible ideas to see if they work for you. Below are some useful tips that might help you to prevent a UTI, which are more or less scientifically proven. 

A few tips on how to avoid UTIs:

  • When going to the toilet, it is recommended to wipe from front to back
  • Try not to over-wash or use harsh soap in your sensitive genital area as it can cause imbalance and then irritation.
  • Use TENA wash cream for your sensitive intimate area, and TENA barrier cream for protection.
  • Pay attention to drying the skin when changing hygiene products since bacteria grow better in moist areas
  • Use high quality, breathable TENA incontinence products which are safe and gentle to the skin.
  • It is recommended to urinate after having sex
  • Getting enough vitamin D has a positive effect on your immune system
  • If you easily get UTI try to take showers instead of baths
  • Locally applied vaginal oestrogen can be used, sometimes even in pre-menopausal women
  • Avoid condoms with spermicides, they may increase the risk of infection

If you're struggling, here's how to empty your bladder completely

  • When going to the toilet, sit in a posture that relaxes the pelvic floor, leaning slightly forward with bent knees and feet resting on the ground or on a footstool
  • When you have finished voiding, stand up and sit down again a few times. This may encourage urine to be voided that was left behind the first time.
If you want to continue learning, read our articles on living with bladder weakness and frequent urination in women. If you're struggling with incontinence and are looking for support, view our range of products.
*Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID) is a class of analgesic medication that reduces pain, fever and inflammation.