Advising with empathy and experience

Urinary Tract Infection testing 'fifty years out of date'.


A painful infection that mainly affects women is too often dismissed as "women's problems."

One in every two women suffers a urinary tract infection (UTI), the second most common infection globally.

Among sufferers is Hannah Hanratty, 36, who suffered months of agony despite multiple negative tests.

But a scientist in Wales has now developed a device to improve testing and said the current system is "50 years out of date."

It was during her pregnancy that Mrs Hanratty, from Swansea, felt the "razor-blade burning pain" when passing urine. It soon developed into a constant pain.

Tests for a UTI repeatedly came back negative, causing her to worry something was wrong with her unborn baby.

She said: "I was in so much pain at the end. I was just trying to get through each day."

At 37 weeks she was induced to have her daughter early, so doctors could carry out more tests without harming the baby.

Two weeks after giving birth she needed antibiotics following a routine procedure and said the pain immediately went.

She said: "It was a UTI all along that just hadn't been picked up by the tests."

As a pelvic health physiotherapist, working with the urogynaecology department at Swansea Bay University Health Board, Mrs Hanratty's experience made her passionate about improving outcomes for her own patients.

She added: "It really affects their mental health and many of them can be suicidal, so it really needs to be taken seriously."

A senior lecturer in Molecular Biology at the University of South Wales, Dr Emma Hayhurst, agreed. She said: "Everyone acknowledges the current testing regime is out of date.

"UTIs affect 50% of women and yet the diagnostics that we're using for them are 50 years out of date."

At the moment a UTI patient may be asked to provide a urine sample, which is sent for analysis, with tests back in two to three days.

Explaining that a device she's developing would reduce that, Dr Hayhurst added: "That's not good enough, we need to make it quicker. Within 30 minutes the clinician will be able to say what bacteria is causing the UTI and, indeed, whether there is a UTI in the first place."

UTIs are among the most common types of infections and an NHS report said it affects more than 92m people worldwide.

Dr Hayhurst has received a £50,000 Women in Innovation Award to further her work and in recognition of her being a female role model in science, technology, engineering and medicine - or STEM subjects, as they're also known.

She said: “We should be listening to the women who are telling us this is a problem in their lives, but we know many feel like they are being dismissed. We have suffered a lack of strong female representation at senior levels in research and in business and that definitely feeds through.

"You tend to innovate in areas that you understand and care about, and so if we always have the same people innovating, then we're always going to come up with the same solutions."

Bacteria usually cause UTIs, most commonly from a person's own bowels, entering the urinary tract through the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body.

Women have a shorter urethra than men, which means bacteria are more likely to reach the bladder or kidneys and cause an infection.

UTI Symptoms include a burning feeling on passing urine and the sensation of needing to pass urine frequently, fever, shivers and pain.

About 50% of women in the UK will get a urinary tract infection and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimates that by the age of 24 nearly one third of women will have had at least one episode of cystitis and up to 30% of women will have had a recurrence of a UTI.