Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Worried about UTIs and cystitis? Fumble gets to the bottom of that burning feeling when you pee 

Urinary Tract Infections (or UTIs for short) are one of the most common sexual health pests: and one of the least talked about. You may have also heard of its cousin, cystitis, which is very similar in both symptoms and treatment. Almost all women experience at least one of these during their lifetime, so don’t panic! You are in good company.

What are UTIs?

A UTI is exactly the same as any other infection you may get in your body – it’s caused by an imbalance of bacteria, which in this case just happens to be taking place in your urinary tract. With cystitis, the bacteria has spread a little further and is irritating the lining of your bladder, causing a bladder infection.

Like most infections it can be treated with a course of antibiotics – but because all this is going on in your crotch, it’s often viewed as a taboo subject and lots of women feel embarrassed talking about it.

It’s also worth mentioning that men get UTIs as well, but they are more common in women because – let’s be honest – vaginas are a much easier place for bacteria to hide than the end of a penis. Women also have a shorter urethra – that’s the tube connecting your bladder to the outside of your body – which makes it easier still for bacteria to spread quickly.

How do I know if I have a UTI?

Oh trust me, you’ll know. Think about that feeling of being excruciatingly, desperately in need of a wee, maybe when you’re stuck on a train or in a queue. Got it? Now, imagine what would happen if that feeling just never went away…

It’s giving me shivers just thinking about it.

The first and most noticeable symptom of a UTI is a sudden or frequent need to pee, often accompanied by a painful or burning sensation when peeing, but other symptoms include:

  • smelly or cloudy pee
  • blood in your pee
  • pain in your lower tummy
  • feeling tired and unwell

The symptoms for Cystitis are, unsurprisingly, very similar:

  • a desperate and frequent need to wee, but only passing small amounts
  • pain, burning or stinging when you wee
  • pain in directly above your pubic area, lower back or abdomen
  • wee that is dark, cloudy or smelly
  • traces of blood when you wee
  • feeling unwell, weak or feverish

Sounds fun, huh? No, I didn’t think so.

Where has it come from?

Let’s make one thing clear here: a UTI is NOT a sexually transmitted infection. You can’t catch a UTI by having sex with someone who has, or has had, a UTI. But is closely related to sex, as getting frisky in the sheets can often be the reason for that bacterial imbalance in the first place. If you start experiencing symptoms, then putting your fumbles on hold for a little while is usually a good idea.

However, UTIs can also be caused by using tampons improperly, overusing perfumed soap in intimate areas (which can cause irritation) or not emptying your bladder fully – although this is more common in pregnant women.

How do I get rid of it?

It’s not all bad news – UTIs often go away on their own, or they can be treated with a course of antibiotics (make sure you finish the course!) from either your GP, a walk-in centre or most sexual health clinics.

There’s been research that cranberries can help alleviate mild symptoms, and many swear by taking cranberry tablets that you can get over the counter at a pharmacy. It’s really important to stay hydrated, as you would with any other bug, and painkillers can help with irritation in the short-term. You can also use a heating pack to alleviate cramping in your abdomen. 

However, there are certain circumstances when you absolutely must see a GP:

  • if you’re a man with symptoms of a UTI
  • if you’re pregnant and have symptoms of a UTI
  • if you haven’t had a UTI before
  • if you have blood in your pee
  • if your symptoms don’t improve within a few days
  • if your symptoms come back after treatment

An untreated UTI can develop into a much more serious kidney infection, so if you fit any of the list above, start to have pain in your sides or lower back, or you experience nausea, diarrhoea or temperature, then you need to get to a GP sharpish.

How do I stop it coming back?

Has anyone ever told you to pee after sex? This is why! Running to the bathroom may not be the sexiest thing in the world, but it’s the best way of making sure that your urinary tract is totally clear of any bacteria from the bedroom that shouldn’t be there. If you have time, taking a shower for the same reason is also a good idea.

UTIs are as much of a bug as a flu virus or an upset stomach, so make sure you take the time to recover properly. Building up good habits and looking after your body will help to ensure that your infection disappears over the horizon and is never seen again.

And there we have it!

Infections, particularly UTIs, are not always the most fun subject to talk about, but if you need to broach the topic with a friend or a partner I always find that this video is an excellent ice-breaker (and a great pick-me-up if you’re feeling crappy in the uterus zone). Keep smiling, stay hydrated and – if you are comfortable doing so – you can share and laugh about this later with friends who have probably been through exactly the same thing.

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