What is a UTI?

A UTI is a urinary tract infection, which means that the bladder, urethra or kidneys have become infected. The most common symptoms are changes to your pee or pain when you pee, but you can also have a high or low temperature and pain in your back or tummy.


UTIs have different names for the parts of the body they affect:

  • bladder infection: cystitis
  • urethra infection: urethritis
  • kidney infection: pyelonephritis

You might also hear doctors refer to the lower urinary tract (the urethra and the bladder) and the upper urinary tract (kidney and the tubes that connect the kidney to the bladder). Upper UTIs are less common but can be more severe.

Both men and women can get UTIs. However, studies suggest that they are more common in women and affect 8 women for every 1 man. This is because of men's and women’s physical differences. For women, getting a urinary tract infection is easier because women have a shorter urethra (the tube that takes urine away from the bladder).


What are the symptoms of UTIs?

Symptoms of UTIs in adults include:

  • a burning sensation or pain when peeing
  • more frequent peeing 
  • peeing more suddenly and urgently than usual
  • needing to pee more frequently than usual, including at night
  • blood in your pee
  • pee that has a strong smell or is cloudy or darker than usual
  • feeling feverish (hot and shivery)
  • a high or very low temperature
  • pain in your back or lower tummy
  • vomiting
  • These symptoms are the same for men and women. Men can also experience rectal pain with a UTI, and women can experience pelvic pain.


In older adults who have memory or concentration issues, UTIs can cause additional symptoms:

  • incontinence that is worse than normal
  • behaviour that is agitated or confused
  • shivering and shaking that is unusual

What are the early signs of UTIs?

Any of the symptoms listed can be an early sign of a UTI. UTIs can develop within 24 hours of infection, but it can also take several days for symptoms to develop.

Are UTIs painful?

The symptoms of a UTI can be painful, but it is also possible to have a UTI and not experience any symptoms or pain.

How long does a UTI last?

Mild UTIs can clear up in a few days with rest and drinking plenty of fluids. However, if the symptoms do not clear up and the UTI is not treated, it can worsen and last for much longer.


A review from 2017 found that 25-42% of uncomplicated UTIs will go away without antibiotics. Antibiotics can reduce the length of time you get symptoms and their severity, but you must finish the course to ensure that the infection has gone.

Can there be complications from having a UTI?

UTIs that are not treated can lead to a severe kidney infection (called pyelonephritis). This can damage the kidneys and spread the infection to your bloodstream (called septicemia).


If you are pregnant and have an untreated UTI, complications can include pre-term delivery and low birth weight. It is simple and safe to treat a UTI if you are pregnant but you should always contact your midwife or doctor for advice and treatment.

When should I talk to a doctor about a UTI?

Seek urgent medical attention if you think you or someone you care for has a UTI and any of the following occur:

  • not been for a pee for a day
  • blood in the pee
  • confused, drowsy or having difficulty speaking
  • a very high temperature and fever
  • a temperature below 36 degrees celsius 
  • pain in the back or lower tummy just under the ribs
  • vomiting

If you think you have a UTI talk to your doctor or a pharmacist if:

  • it is the first time you have experienced the symptoms
  • your symptoms are getting worse
  • you are a man
  • you are pregnant
  • the UTI has returned after you finished treatment
  • you have just had surgery
  • you have any conditions or take any medications that affect your immune system

If you are caring for a child or older person and suspect that they have a UTI, talk to their doctor immediately.


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