The Urogynaecology Centre at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group, shares the risk factors, symptoms, prevention and treatment for urinary tract infection (UTI).

Risk factors for urinary tract infection

Some factors that increase a women’s risk of developing UTI include:

  • Age: The rate of UTIs in women gradually increases with age.
  • Incomplete bladder emptying, which allows the residual urine to be rapidly infected by bacteria present.
    Causes include:
    • Pregnancy – about 15 per cent of pregnant women will experience a UTI
    • Bladder, uterine or any other pelvic organ prolapse
  • Sexual intercourse, which seems to trigger a UTI infection in many women, although the reason for this is unclear.
  • Use of diaphragm and condoms with spermicidal foam as contraceptives
  • Immunosuppression with certain medications or drugs
  • Diabetes
  • Menopause with the attendant loss of oestrogen
  • Abnormalities of the urinary tract, such as kidney or renal stones, which act as a focus for infection
  • Instrumentation of the urinary tract (e.g. catheterisation, cystoscopy)

Signs and symptoms of urinary tract infection

Early recognition and ade​quate treatment of UTI is necessary to prevent complications. Signs to look out for include:

  • Painful, burning sensation during urination (dysuria)
  • High frequency and feeling of urgency of urination, even when there’s little urine
  • Cloudy, dark, foul-smelling or bloody urine
  • Discomfort in the lower abdomen
  • Fever, tiredness or shakiness
  • Nausea or back pain (signs of renal infection)

It is advisable to seek treatment if the infection doesn’t clear up in a few days. The infection is normally confined to the bladder, but may spread to the kidneys, which is serious and may cause permanent damage.

Treating and preventing a UTI

The main treatment for urinary tract infection is antibiotics, together with an adequate intake (3–4 litres a day) of water and other fluids.

Drinking cranberry and blueberry juices is also believed to help prevent infection, as certain chemicals contained in them reduce the chance of bacteria sticking to the bladder skin lining, which leads to infection.

Probiotics (live culture yogurt) have also been shown to reduce the chance of getting a UTI, as "good" live bacteria is introduced into the bowels of patients and reduces the chance of the "bad" bacteria in our bowels spreading and causing UTI.

UTIs can be prevented by ensuring proper personal hygiene and regular emptying of the bladder. As the source of the bacteria comes from the bowels, it is also vitally important to clean from front to back after defecation to avoid faecal contamination of the vaginal region.

Regular, daily cleansing of the genital area with water is encouraged, especially before and after sexual intercourse, but avoid the overzealous use of vaginal cleansers to reduce the chances of getting UTI. Urination after sexual intercourse also helps flush away urine possibly contaminated with bacteria.

All active vaginal infections should also be treated, or bacteria may spread on to the urinary tract.

See previous page to learn about recurrent urinary tract infections​ (UTI).​

Ref: T12