Ask the expert

Is a constant urge to pee a sign of an urinary tract infection?

13 August 2019

The symptoms you describe suggest that you have a water infection, also known as a urinary tract infection (UTI).

These are a common type of infection in adults – women usually get them, but they can also occur in men. They affect the bladder, kidney and all the tubes that connect them.

It is not clear why these infections occur but it is thought that they often happen when bacteria from the gut gets into the urinary tract, for example, if you have sex or wipe your bottom from back to front.

Some of the other causes can include if you have a weak immune system, have a urinary catheter or use contraceptive diaphragms or condoms that are covered in spermicide.

UTIs can also affect children – we have more information about this on our factsheet.

There are two different types of UTIs: lower UTIs affect the bladder and urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body), while upper UTIs affect the kidneys and the tubes connecting them.

Sometimes lower UTIs can spread and reach the kidneys. This makes you feel very ill with back pain and fever. If this is the case, you must see your doctor urgently.

Water infection symptoms

Common symptoms of a lower UTI can include:

  • Stinging when you pass urine
  • Passing urine frequently and urgently
  • Unable to empty your bladder properly
  • Sharp pain in your lower abdomen
  • Cloudy, smelly urine that can also contain blood
  • Generally feeling unwell.

Lower UTIs aren’t usually anything to worry about, but if your symptoms are getting worse, haven’t cleared after a few days or you regularly get UTIs then you must see your doctor.

If you suffer from urine infections on a regular basis your GP may want to refer you to a urologist for further investigations.

Common symptoms of an upper UTI (when the infection has spread to your kidneys) can include:

  • Fever
  • Acute, sharp pain in your lower abdomen, groin and loin area of the back
  • Shivering
  • Nausea and being sick
  • Confusion or agitation.

You must see your doctor urgently if you have these symptoms as kidney infections can be very serious.

Water infection treatment

Antibiotics are the usual treatment for UTIs. Women are usually given a short course of antibiotics, although men are sometimes given a longer course (as are women who are pregnant and anyone with advanced symptoms).

Your GP may need to send a urine specimen off to a lab to check for infection. They may well start you on antibiotics as it is important to stop the infection spreading. They may then change them if your urine specimen shows that the infection will only respond to different type of drug.

You can buy over the counter medication to help relieve symptoms of urine infections from pharmacies, and regular painkillers can help if it is safe for you to take them.

Symptoms should start to ease within three to five days, but remember to always finish your course of medication. Contact your doctor if symptoms persist, get worse or return.

How to prevent water infections

The following ways can be used to prevent water infections – and are handy self-help treatment tips if you have one:

  • Stay well hydrated – drink two to three litres a day, preferably water
  • Reduce your caffeine intake as this can irritate the bladder
  • Drink fluids such as barley water and cranberry juice
  • Go to the toilet regularly and empty your bladder properly
  • Maintain good body hygiene particularly post toileting or sexual intercourse. Using unperfumed bath products, particularly in your genital region, also helps. Having a shower, rather than a bath is also sometimes helpful
  • Avoid constipation
  • Wipe your bottom in the direction of front to back
  • Wear underwear made from cotton, not synthetics, and avoid tight trousers
  • Avoid contraceptive diaphragms and condoms that are coated in spermicide – use alternative contraception
  • Go to the toilet as soon as possible after sex.

Answered by the Health at Hand team.  

Further Reading

Urinary tract infection 

Baggy kidney (hydronephrosis) 

I have an overactive bladder

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