While the symptoms of UTIs in men and women are very similar, the causes and incidence rates between genders are not.
UTIs are relatively common in women and usually aren't anything to worry about; but for men, this isn’t always the case. So, we spoke to Mr Sam Datta, a leading consultant urologist, to understand more about the differences in UTIs between men and women.
What is a UTI?
UTI stands for urinary tract infection and is an infection that happens anywhere in your urinary system. This consists of the bladder, ureters, kidneys and urethra. Most of the time, however, infections occur in the lower urinary tract - known as cystitis - which is made up of your bladder and urethra. The urethra is the tube the carries urine from the bladder and out of your body.
What are the symptoms of a UTI?
Symptoms of UTIs in men and women are very similar. Depending on where the UTI is located, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Going to the toilet more often
- Feeling as though you need to pee all the time
- Pain and/or burning when you pee
- Passing blood when you pee
- Pain below your stomach
- Cloudy or smelly urine
- Feeling tired and unwell
Sometimes men don’t experience any symptoms.
In women, UTIs are quite common. Around one in three women will get a UTI at some point in their life. It tends to happen when they are younger, or when they are older or post-menopausal.
UTIs usually happen when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and start multiplying in the bladder or kidney. In comparison to men, women have much shorter urethras, which means bacteria are much more likely to reach the kidney or bladder and cause an infection.
If you get two or three infections a year, you should consider seeing a urologist to get checked out.
What causes UTIs in women?
It’s not always obvious how bacteria manage to enter the bladder. There are many causes and factors that put you at an increased risk of UTIs:
- If your bladder doesn’t empty properly, bacteria can remain inside and start to multiply. This can be caused by a blockage in your urinary systems, such as a bladder or kidney stones.
- Post-menopausal problems can cause UTIs. The lining of the urethra can shrink due to the lack of oestrogen and the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina can change. This makes your urethra more vulnerable to infections.
- Sex can lead to a UTI. The anus and vagina are very close, and bacteria from your anus can reach the urethral opening to the bladder. Also, having a new sexual partner can increase your risk.
How are UTIs diagnosed?
To diagnose a UTI, a doctor will ask you about your symptoms. You will likely need to provide a urine sample which will then be tested and possibly undergoing a cystoscopy. A cystoscopy involves passing a thin telescope into the bladder via the urethra to examine it.
UTIs in men are not common, unlike in women. As a man’s urethra is much longer than a woman’s, it is much more difficult for bacteria to reach the bladder. If a man gets a UTI it can indicate there is an additional underlying problem.
What causes UTIs in men?
When some men get older, their prostate grows larger; a condition known as benign prostatic enlargement. This enlarged prostate can push on the bladder and make it harder for urine to flow out freely. If urine doesn’t empty completely, it can cause bacteria to build up and an infection can occur.
Other less common factors that increase your risk of UTIs include:
- Prostate cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Urinary tract stones
- STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea
- Engaging in unprotected anal sex
How are UTIs diagnosed?
Investigations in men are usually directed towards excluding the cause of the UTI. This may involve the use of an ultrasound scan, cystoscopy (telescope) and a flow rate test (a test to measure your urinary flow rate). Sometimes, a swab test is done on men to check for other conditions.
How can UTIs be prevented?
There are certain steps you can take to reduce your chance of getting a UTI:
- Drink plenty of water
- Drink cranberry juice
- Empty your bladder before and after sexual intercourse
- Wear loose underwear
- Don’t hold your pee for long periods
How are UTIs treated?
The treatment of a UTI depends on the cause, however, in most cases, your doctor will prescribe you a course of antibiotics which will be enough to treat it.
If you have any of the symptoms described in this article and would like to see a specialist, visit Dr Sam Datta’s Top Doctors profile and book a consultation to see him.