Urinary tract infection – adults

This article on urinary tract infections in adults will help you to prevent,  treat and to ease the symptoms of urinary tract infection. 

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

Urinary tract infections or UTIs are an incredibly common infection – it has been estimated that half all women will suffer a UTI during their lifetime.

A UTI is characterised by burning on passing urine, the urge to pass urine frequently and pain.

Such infections occur when the normally sterile urine becomes infected with bacteria or other microorganisms. The most common bacteria causing a UTI is E.coli, though other conditions such as a form of staphylococcus and Chlamydia can cause infection.

Such bacteria or organisms enter the urethra – the tiny tube that links from the vulva to the bladder – and cause irritation (urethritis). The infection can then spread back to the bladder causing cystitis (inflammation of the bladder).

If a UTI is left untreated the infection can track even further back to the kidneys, via two small tubes called the ureters (one connects between each kidney and the bladder). This is kidney infection is called pyelonephritis and is a serious health issue.

With correct treatment, a urinary tract infection can be cleared quickly – in just one or two days. Even if symptoms are quickly alleviated, you must finish any antibiotic course ordered by the doctor to ensure bacteria does not reoccur in a stronger or different form.

Women with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing UTIs. Certain medications that affect the immune system can also predispose to developing a UTI.

UTIs are much more common in women, than men. UTIs in men can be indicative of prostrate problems, kidney stones or a sexually transmitted disease.

Why do women get urinary tract infections so frequently?

  • Basically due to our anatomy – the urethra is very close to the vagina and anus so bacteria can spread easily
  • Women have a shorter urethra than men which means bacteria can travel to the bladder quicker
  • Sexual intercourse can irritate the urethra and increase the incidence of a UTI
  • Research has shown that using a diaphragm can cause a higher incidence of UTIs
  • Research has also shown using condoms with spermicidal foam can cause the growth of E.coli bacteria in the vagina
  • After menopause UTIs can also become more common due to changes in the urethra, bladder and vagina due to hormonal fluctuations

What are the signs and symptoms of a UTI?

  • Burning and pain on urination
  • An urge to pass urine regularly
  • Even when you have just passed urine, a feeling you need to urinate again
  • Passing only small amounts of urine
  • Pain
  • Tiredness
  • Shakiness
  • Urine may be cloudy and strong smelling
  • Urine can have blood in it or
  • Sometimes a UTI occurs without any symptoms

Specific symptoms of urethritis:

  • Burning on passing urine. In men it can cause a discharge from the penis

Specific symptoms of cystitis:

  • Frequent, painful urination
  • Strong smelling urine
  • A feeling of pressure in the lower abdomen

Specific symptoms of pyelonephritis:

  • Upper back pain
  • Pain over the kidney regions (at the sides of the back)
  • Fevers
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Treatment for urinary tract infections in adults

  • See a doctor – they will order a urine test
  • Often a `mid stream’ urine test is ordered. This is where you catch urine part way through passing urine, which prevents bacteria from the genital region contaminating the sample
  • Urine tests will determine the correct antibiotic to fight the infection. They will also discover if there is pus or red blood cells in the urine
  • Recurrent urinary tract infection or UTI’s that fail to respond to treatment may mean the doctor will order additional tests such as an ultrasound or other x-ray or scope tests to see if there is a deeper problem in the urinary system
  • Once treatment is complete, your doctor may order a follow-up urine test to ensure the infection has properly cleared
  • For recurrent UTIs caused by sexual intercourse, a single dose antibiotic following sex might be prescribed
  • A UTI caused by chlamydia or mycoplasma may be sexually transmitted meaning both partners will need to be treated to prevent reinfection

Risks & complications of a UTI

  • A fever is a sign the UTI might have developed into a kidney infection
  • Kidney infections can be serious and need prompt and proper medical treatment to avoid long-term complications. Kidney infections may require hospital treatment and treatment with intravenous antibiotics
  • Kidney damage
  • UTIs in pregnancy require prompt treatment to avoid complications such as premature delivery. Pregnant women are more prone to UTIs that other women, as the m uscle walls of the urethra and ureters are more relaxed due to the high levels of progesterone in the body, during pregnancy. Some doctors suggest periodic testing of urine during pregnancy to check for UTIs.
  • In the elderly UTIs can cause confusion and falls.

What can I do to prevent urinary tract infection in adults?

  • Drink plenty of water every day
  • Don’t delay urination – when you have the urge to pass urine do it
  • Urinate soon after sex
  • Cleanse the genital area prior to sex
  • Always wipe from the front to the back after you have used the toilet to stop bacteria spreading from the anus into the urethra
  • Avoid sprays and douches that may irritate the urethra
  • Avoid coffee, alcohol, spicy and sugary foods when fighting a UTI
  • Cranberry juice is a well-known natural remedy to help fight urine infections – drink plenty of the juice if you have a UTI (though not if you are on the blood-thinning medication warfarin). Cranberry juice works by helping stop bacteria from clinging to the bladder wall; a similar effect has been seen from blueberries. Stick to an unsweetened cranberry juice, to prevent dental decay
  • Shower rather than use a bath
  • Warm wheat packs on the lower abdomen may be soothing when you have a UTI
  • If you are suffering reoccurring UTIs seek out a doctor trained in bioidentical or natural hormone therapy who are likely to be able to help you (call 09 442 5850 to find a doctor in your area)
  • Studies have shown that acupuncture can help eliminate reoccurring UTIs. Homeopathic remedies such as cantharis or staphisagria can also help
  • Stop smoking – smoking is a major cause of bladder cancer

Helpful articles

To find out more about Urinary Tract Infections in children, click here

Fever can usually be treated at home  – visit our article for great advice


Kimberley Paterson

Kimberley Paterson is a writer and public relations expert living in Whangaparaoa. She had an initial career as a registered nurse and has spent the last 20 years writing about health and well-being.

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