Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are one of the most common forms of infection and affect approximately 50 percent of women. This is because the urinary tract can be easily infected with different forms of bacteria, as well as viruses and parasites, through any number of daily activities. E-Coli bacteria accounts for 80-90 percent of all UTIs.
UTIs can be caused by a wide range of factors, and the severity of the infection will depend on its location in the urinary tract. A UTI can occur in any part of the urinary tract, including the urethra, bladder, ureters, or kidneys. Anyone who has ever experienced a UTI understands that “discomfort” is a bit of an understatement. Even a mild UTI can leave one feeling in pain, ill, and with low energy. Fortunately, it is very treatable with a doctor’s help.
Common Symptoms of a UTI
The symptoms of a UTI vary from person to person, but for most people, they are quite obvious and uncomfortable. Common signs of a UTI include:
- Cloudy urine
- Red, pink, or dark colored urine
- Urine with a strong odor
- Pelvic, back or abdominal pain
- Strong, sudden or persistent urges to urinate
- Burning when urinating
- Frequent urination in small amounts
Types of Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections are identified by where they occur in the urinary tract. Depending on the location of the infection, an oral antibiotic cycle with Bactrim or Cipro may be all that’s needed. In more serious, rare circumstances, admission to the hospital for intravenous antibiotics may be required to fully treat it. There are two primary types of infections, including:
- Lower UTIs – A lower UTI occurs when there is an infection in the bladder or urethra. A bladder infection, also known as cystitis, and a urethra infection, or urethritis, are the most common forms of UTIs and are usually cured after several days of oral antibiotics.
- Upper UTIs – An upper UTI occurs when there is a kidney or ureter infection. Pyelonephritis (kidney infection) is less common but much more serious than lower UTIs. Ureter infections are even less common.
Risk Factors for Women
UTIs are usually the result of bacteria being introduced to the urethra. While men and women can both experience UTIs, they are much more prevalent in women due to their shortened urethras. The average female urethra is 4cm long, while the average male urethra is 15-20cm long. Some UTI risk factors exclusive to women are:
- Certain types of birth control: Using a diaphragm, spermicidal agents or unlubricated condoms may increase the risk of a UTI.
- Menopause: The decline in estrogen levels during and after menopause can affect the urinary tract and leave women more prone to infection.
- Sexual activity: Women who are sexually active tend to be more at risk for UTIs than those who are not. Any form of sexual activity (protected or not) increases your exposure to bacteria.
Medical Conditions Can Cause UTIs
UTIs can also occur in babies, young children as well as the elderly population. In short, people of every age and gender may develop a UTI, but they are more common after certain medical procedures or health conditions. For both men and women, the following factors could increase the risk of UTIs:
- Catheter Use: Those who must use a catheter to urinate tend to have a higher risk of UTIs if it is not sterile. Those who have been hospitalized, those who are paralyzed, and people who are unable to control their bladder due to a nerve or neurological condition often have to use catheters.
- Urinary Tract Abnormalities: Infants and young children who were born with abnormalities of the urinary tract may hinder urine from passing through the body normally and lead to more frequent UTIs.
- Urinary Blockage: Those suffering from kidney stones or an enlarged prostate that results in urinary tract blockage are at an increased risk of UTIs.
- Immune System Suppression: Those who are undergoing chemotherapy, suffer from diabetes or other conditions that may suppress the immune system have an increased risk of UTIs due to the body’s lowered ability to fight off germs and bacteria.
Lifestyle Choices Linked to Infections
Along with health conditions and medical treatments, UTIs can also be caused by everyday activities people often overlook. A simple change in these habits may lower one’s risk of getting a UTI.
Waiting to urinate
Those who have a habit of holding their urine for long periods of time throughout the day or not emptying their bladder completely are at a higher risk of developing UTIs. This is because they are allowing high residual urine to remain in the bladder, and bacteria can build up in the stagnant urine and lead to inflammation and infection. This can easily be prevented by urinating whenever you feel the urge and making sure the bladder is completely empty.
Women who bike to work or cycle frequently for exercise are at a higher risk of UTIs than women who do not. Researchers believe the frequent compression on the urethra can lead to contamination, but this risk can be lowered by simply staying hydrated before and after cycling.
Taking certain medication
Since UTIs can be caused by retaining urine, drugs that cause urine retention can increase one’s risk of infection. These medications include antipsychotic drugs, decongestants, antihistamines, and anticholinergic drugs. While it is not advised to cease taking prescription drugs without consulting a doctor, it is important to understand the increased risk of a UTI.
Wiping back to front
For women, wiping from back to front can introduce harmful bacteria to the urethra. In fact, a recent study reveals that wiping from back to front increases one’s risk of infection by 64 percent. It is important for women to always wipe from front to back to avoid UTIs and yeast infections.
Wearing tight underwear
Wearing tight underwear or lingerie can increase a woman’s risk of UTIs because non-breathable fabric can trap in harmful bacteria and lead it directly to the urethra. This can be avoided by wearing underwear that is loose-fitting and made of a breathable fabric, like cotton.
How to Prevent a Urinary Tract Infection
Unfortunately, UTIs are often unavoidable for many women. However, a simple urinalysis and urine culture from an urgent care center or doctor’s office is all that is needed to properly diagnose the infection. If you suspect you have a UTI, it is important to schedule an appointment with your urologist or gynecologist right away. Without immediate attention and antibiotics, your UTI may become more severe and lead to complications.
Some easy, at-home remedies to incorporate into your daily routine to help reduce the risk of a UTI include:
Drinking plenty of water helps to dilute urine and allows you to urinate more frequently, which flushes out any harmful bacteria in the urinary tract.
Urinate after intercourse
Emptying the bladder and drinking extra fluids shortly after intercourse can help expel bacteria from the urethra and prevent UTIs.
Carefully choose feminine products
Some sprays, powders, and other feminine products, especially those that are scented, can cause irritation to the urethra and cause an infection.