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Urine infections (cystitis)

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urinary system showing kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethraA urine infection is often referred to as a urinary tract infection (UTI).

The infection is caused by bacteria (germs) entering your urinary system through your urethra (the tube that you pass urine (wee) through). E. coli, which is a bacterium that lives in your bowel, is commonly the cause of the infection.

Sometimes the bacteria that cause a UTI can travel and infect other parts of your urinary system. An infection of your kidneys is called pyelonephritis. An infection of your bladder is cystitis, and an infection of your urethra is urethritis.

There are several things that increase your risk of getting a UTI:

Symptoms of a urine infection

Sometimes you will not have any symptoms and sometimes your symptoms can be mild. But you may experience:

Urine infections can make frail older people very unwell. Often the only symptoms are being more muddled, sleepier, incontinent, off food or just generally unwell. Confusion and sleepiness can put older people at risk of falls.


Seek urgent medical attention if you also have a fever, back pain or nausea and vomiting as you may have a more serious kidney infection.

Diagnosing a UTI

To diagnose a UTI, your general practice team will examine you and ask you questions about your general health.

You may need to collect some wee in a container for a urine test.

Sometimes your general practice team will arrange a blood test to check for signs of infection and to see how well your kidneys are working.

If you are male, your general practice team may recommend tests to check your bladder, prostate or kidneys. This is more likely if you are under 50 or if you have an infection more than twice within a few months.

Treating a UTI

A UTI is usually treated quite easily with a short course of antibiotics. Make sure you finish all the antibiotics, even if you are feeling better.

If you are a woman aged 16 to 65, you are not pregnant and you do not have any other complicating factors, you can buy an antibiotic from some pharmacies without a prescription from a doctor.

You can take pain relief to dull the pain and lower your temperature. You should also drink plenty of fluids.

If you keep getting UTIs (recurrent UTI) your doctor may give you a low dose antibiotic to take every day for a few months.

If your urine test does not find any bacteria, you may have another cause for your symptoms such painful bladder syndrome or a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Preventing a UTI

There are several things you can do to help prevent UTIs:

There is some evidence that cranberry juice or supplements may help prevent UTIs in women and children though not in pregnant or older people. There is no standard recommendation of how much cranberry you need.

In New Zealand, we mostly have cranberry drinks rather than cranberry juice. Cranberry drinks may contain as little as 3% cranberry juice. If you have cranberry drinks, it is best to choose the "light" or "low sugar" varieties as the regular varieties have a high amount of sugar.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed April 2023.


Page reference: 628315

Review key: HIURS-53047