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How to spot and treat a urinary tract infection

Urinary tract infections (UTI) are more common than you think, with women at greater risk than men due to their shorter urethra. As many as 4 in 5 females will get at least one such infection in their lives and 20-30% are fated to suffer recurring bouts. They are commonly caused by E. coli bacteria entering the urethra and multiplying.

UTIs can affect any part of your urinary system but most will impact your bladder and the urethra. Things can get more serious if the infection spreads to your kidneys. Pregnant women, in particular, are at risk and should seek prompt treatment to avoid this. So what should you be looking out for?

Symptoms

If you feel a strong urge to urinate without actually having much fluid to dispel, you could have an infection. Pain or a burning sensation upon passing water is another tell-tale sign. Your urine may also be cloudy and foul smelling. Pain can manifest in the side, back or lower abdomen, while more severe cases can bring a general sense of fatigue, fever or nausea. These cases can lead some adult sufferers to wet the bed.

Treatment

Mild cases should self-resolve within a few days. Paracetamol or hot water bottles placed on the stomach, back or between your thighs can ease the pain in the meantime. Rest and ensuring you drink plenty of fluids should speed up the recovery process. Though often recommended, cranberry juice has not been proven to work and its sugar content can make matters worse.

If you feel the need to visit your GP, they can diagnose you based on symptoms and a lab analysis of a urine sample. A 3-5 day course of antibiotics can then get you feeling right as rain again.

Prevention

Though there is no sure-fire way to avoid UTIs, drinking plenty of fluids helps flush out the urinary tract, while vitamin C is effective at keeping urine sterile. Toilet and sexual hygiene is also important. 

Shower instead of bathing, try to fully empty your bladder when urinating and urinate as soon as possible following sexual intercourse. Certain birth control methods, such as diaphragms and condoms, can also be responsible for a problem.

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