Really common, really annoying, and occasionally really dangerous. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more frequent in women because they have shorter urethras (the tube from bladder to the outside) and so bacteria have less distance to travel before causing trouble. The symptoms are needing to pee small amounts more often, pains when peeing and around the bladder area, mild fevers, headaches, fatigue and blood in the urine. Kids with UTIs sometimes just have stinky urine and a non-specific fever. Sometimes an infection, especially in men, can lead to difficulties in emptying the bladder.

There are lots of conditions that masquerade as UTIs so it is important to get checked out by your GP. I have had patients presenting with UTI symptoms who have actually had ovarian cancer, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancies, kidney stones, prostate cancer, urethral cancer, endometriosis, diverticulitis, bladder cancer, vaginitis and the list goes on. Obviously, a quick script for antibiotics is not always the answer.

One thing to be aware of is that incorrectly treated UTIs can turn into nasty infections of the kidneys. The kidneys are very blood-rich organs, and patients with kidney infections (pyelonephritis) can become life-threateningly unwell very quickly. If you have nausea and vomiting, flank pains and high fevers with a UTI you should get to your GP or an emergency department quickly because you might have a kidney infection or abscess.

When you see your GP for UTI symptoms they will most likely send you for a urine test. This is very important to distinguish what bacteria (if any) is causing the problems, and to select the safest antibiotics. We all know that using antibiotics without caution causes widespread antimicrobial resistance (currently one of the biggest threats to future human well-being), and so your antibiotics need to be selected with care.

Other measures to help ease the symptoms are to drink plenty of water, take simple analgesia and to avoid strenuous or hot activities. If the attacks are frequent, it might also be a good idea to discuss further investigations such as ultrasounds and specialist urologist review with your GP.

Dr Cath Hester

These articles are not intended to replace a one-to-one relationship with a qualified health professional or as specific medical advice. They are intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from experience and research in the scientific literature. I encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon a partnership with a qualified health care professional.