A urinary tract infection (UTI) generally describes an infection anywhere in your urinary tract. The urinary tract consists of the bladder, kidneys, the tubes connecting the bladder and two kidneys (ureters) and the tube from the bladder to the outside (urethra).
Symptoms can differ depending on where in the urinary tract the infection has set in. If the infection affects the bladder (known as cystitis), you may have pain when passing urine (known as dysuria), going to the toilet more often to pee (frequency), and needing to rush to the toilet (urgency). You may also get pain where your bladder is low down in your tummy, a change to your urine from the usual pale yellow colour to pink or bloody, or cloudy, and you could get a fever.
If the infection ascends higher up the urinary tract towards the kidneys (known as pyelonephritis) you may get pain in one side of your lower back or loin, depending on which ureter or kidney is affected. You will likely feel quite unwell, with fever, chills and possibly vomiting.
A UTI and its associated symptoms can clear just by drinking plenty of water to help dilute the acidic urine, and also flush out infection from the bladder and urinary tract. Aim to drink about one pint of water (or half a litre) every two hours, taking regular and frequent sips.
If you think you have symptoms of a UTI, you should speak with your doctor or pharmacist. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, you may feel well enough to try some self-treatment, but your doctor may also consider a course of antibiotic tablets are appropriate.
There are certain situations that require a more urgent discussion with your doctor. If you are pregnant, you will need to see your doctor or midwife and any antibiotics will be considered depending on which trimester your pregnancy is in. UTIs are common in pregnancy and can be treated without harming your baby. If left untreated they can cause kidney problems, and increase the risk of preterm labour and infection of the newborn at birth.
If you have symptoms of pyelonephritis with fevers, vomiting, and pain in your loin or back, you should see your doctor urgently, as there's a risk of becoming quite unwell with this, and of damage to the kidneys.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you. It's likely they will want to do a urine test in the practice and they may send this off to the lab. Depending on the possible diagnosis, they may order blood tests or imaging (X-ray, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI), or you may be referred to a specialist department. The doctor may also prescribe some medication such as antibiotics to help with your symptoms.
UTIs may need to be treated with antibiotics, although these only help your immune system do its job - your immune system alone can sometimes clear a UTI. Assess how severe your symptoms are and how long they are lasting, and discuss things with your doctor as needs be.
It's rare to clear a pyelonephritis without antibiotics, so if you have symptoms of this, contact your doctor urgently.
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