Staying free from Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are a relatively common, but unpleasant problem which affects the bladder and/or kidneys. Symptoms may include; changes in bladder habits, burning pain with urination, back or tummy pain, urinary urgency, incontinence, a high fever and even delirium if left untreated.

Not all infections are easy to detect and some people may feel only mildly unwell or have unexplained changes to their bladder habits. Carers of people who cannot communicate clearly often report that the only outward indication of a UTI may be strong smelling urine or a change in mood or behaviour.

Women and the elderly have a higher risk of UTI.

Most urinary infections are caused by a bacteria that has made it’s way into the bladder via the urethra or via continence aids such as a catheter. This requires direct contact between the entrance to the bladder and the bacteria. Bad smells and public toilet seats are not to blame because they do not make contact with that part of the body.

UTI is more likely to be caused by:

  1. Poor wiping techniques after toileting. It is important to wipe from front to back, particularly after a bowel action. Bacteria that belong in the bowel can cause problems if they get into the urethra and bladder.
  2. Bacteria on your hands or other surfaces making contact with the urethra or continence aids. Make sure you know the correct clean techniques for using catheters and use single use catheters where possible. Care workers should wash their hands well and wear gloves for intimate care.
  3. Broken, wet and fragile skin is more susceptible to infection – Good skin care and appropriate use of continence aids can ensure skin is healthy and more resistant to infection. Powders and harsh soaps should not be used on intimate areas.
  4. Poor fluid intake. A good flow of urine can wash away any stray bacteria that may be in or near the urethra, therefore preventing an infection. Drinking about 1500ml of fluid a day ensures a good amounts of urine. You can find more information on healthy drinking in the free Water For Wellbeing kit http://continencevictoria.org.au/water-for-wellbeing-resource-kit/
  5. Not emptying your bladder well. If you hover instead of sitting properly on the toilet, some urine stays inside the bladder which encourages stray bacteria to multiply rather than being flushed out. Other causes of incomplete emptying include constipation and prostate enlargement.

Symptomatic UTI’s are usually treated as soon as possible. Your doctor or nurse may ask for a urine sample to ensure that the medication chosen will work for that particular infection.

Prevent UTI with a few simple steps such as:

Correct wiping techniques, Clean hands, Good skin care, Drinking well and Emptying your bladder well.

This article is based on the Water For Wellbeing fact sheet on Urinary Tract Infections

Written by our own Terry Wesselink, Pelvic Health and Continence Physiotherapist.

This article has also appeared in Independence Australia’s Health and Self Newsletter.