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Urinary tract infection (UTI)

3-minute read

What are UTIs?

A urinary tract infection is an infection in any part of your urinary system, which includes the bladder, urethra, ureters (urine tubes) and kidneys. If untreated, UTIs can lead to kidney infection which can be very serious, so it’s important to visit your doctor for early management.

What are the symptoms of UTIs?

If you have a UTI, you may:

  • have pain or a burning feeling when urinating
  • need to urinate small amounts often, or with urgency
  • have blood in the urine
  • feel uncomfortable in your lower abdomen

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our urinary infections and problems Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes UTIs?

UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urinary system, usually via the urethra (the tube through which urine passes from the bladder to outside the body).

UTIs can happen to anyone but are more common in women who are sexually active or menopausal, or those with health conditions such as diabetes or urinary incontinence.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any symptoms associated with a UTI or a pre-existing health condition, don’t delay visiting your doctor for treatment.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — Our Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How are UTIs diagnosed?

Visit your doctor if you have UTI symptoms. They may perform a physical examination and a sample of urine will be collected for testing.

The Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases recommend that if your urine tests results show bacteria in your urine but you don't have any symptoms of a UTI, it is unlikely you will need antibiotics. For more information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

How are UTIs treated and prevented?

A UTI is often a once-off illness that resolves quickly and responds to treatment with antibiotics if needed. However, for some people, UTIs are a recurring problem.

If you have repeated UTIs there are some self-help measures that may help prevent further infections:

  • drink more fluids to help flush out bacteria
  • urinate immediately after intercourse
  • gently wipe from front to back after urinating
  • wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting pants
  • eat natural yoghurt to restore normal vaginal environment
  • find an alternative method of birth control if you use spermicides

There is conflicting evidence for drinking cranberry juice to prevent UTIs. If you want to try cranberry products, ask your doctor for advice.

Complications of a UTI

Complications of UTIs aren’t common, but they can be serious and require immediate treatment by a doctor. They usually affect people diagnosed with diabetes, a weakened immune system, men with recurrent UTIs, or women who are pregnant.

If a UTI is left untreated, bacteria may travel to the kidneys causing kidney infection, damage and even kidney failure. Blood poisoning can happen and occurs when the infection spreads from the kidneys to the blood-stream.

If the infection moves to the kidneys, there may be high fever, back pain, diarrhoea and vomiting. If you have these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2020


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