Think you know how to spot a UTI?

29 March 2023

Lots of us think we can tell a urinary tract infection (UTI), right? But MS can throw up a few curveballs that can catch you off guard, and those that care for you.

We know that if you have MS you are more prone to UTIs and yet you may not necessarily get the more common UTI symptoms. You may be dealing with bladder issues from your MS already, so some symptoms can also go unnoticed.   

Left untreated, UTIs can become serious. They can make your MS symptoms worse, lead to hospital stays and scary complications like sepsis.   

What should I look out for?

When it comes to UTIs, we think of symptoms that include these:  

  • peeing much more often
  • the need to wee more urgently  
  • pain or discomfort when you wee  
  • incontinence 
  • lower tummy or lower back pain 
  • fever 
  • the shivers 
  • blood in urine. 

They are important symptoms to watch out for, but it’s also worth keeping these in mind when you have MS, including:   

  • abdominal or back discomfort 
  • confusion 
  • reduced appetite 
  • lack of energy 
  • leaking between intermittent self-catheterisation 
  • a blocked catheter   
  • bladder not feeling empty 
  • cloudy pee 
  • smelly wee  
  • pee that has changed colour 

Sometimes UTIs can cause some unusual changes in behaviour. You may become agitated and confused, even to the point of delirium.  

It means that when you’re facing this level of confusion it’s unlikely you’ll be able to flag a UTI. That’s when those closest to you can make all the difference to a timely diagnosis.  

What if I don’t have any of the usual UTI symptoms? It could still be a UTI. Be aware that a UTI can make your MS worsen for no apparent reason and without any of the symptoms listed here, so call your doctor if you are feeling out of sorts. 

I think I've got a UTI

Don’t delay. Call your GP straightaway, as getting treatment for a UTI quickly can save you from needing to go to hospital. 

Depending on your symptoms and circumstances, your doctor may need a urine sample for testing.  

If your health team has given you a home-testing urine kit now is the time to use it. 

UTIs are treated with a course of antibiotics, and these usually make you feel better in a few days. If you feel worse or see no improvement, call your GP.  

And if a UTI comes on at the weekend or out-of-hours, call NHS 111 for help. 

How can carers help?

If you have a lot of care needs, it is quite possible that those nearest and dearest to you may spot some of the UTI warning signs first.  

These infections come out of the blue, can worsen rapidly and be unnerving, especially if serious confusion takes hold. So, it’s worth you all taking a moment to familiarise yourselves on UTIs and how to prevent them. This way you’re prepared for the unexpected, and can help prevent some of the more serious complications.  

Find out more

MSSNA, Multiple Sclerosis Academy, MS Trust, Hollister
Bladder pathway: bladder management for people with multiple sclerosis
September 2022
Bladder pathway (link is external)
Phé V; et al.
Urinary tract infections in multiple sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis Journal. 2016; 22: 855-861.
Summary (link is external)
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