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June 8, 2016 | Urology
If you’re a woman, chances are very good – 50/50, in fact – that you’ve been treated for at least one urinary tract infection. The pain and disruption that a UTI brings to your life can be frustrating, especially if you’re prone to repeated infections like many women. Let’s take a look at what causes UTIs and explore some simple steps to help you enjoy a UTI-free life.
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of your urinary system:
Kidneys – two organs that filter blood to produce urine
Ureters — tubes that transport urine from the kidneys to the urinary bladder
Bladder — hollow muscular organ that collects urine from the kidneys before it is expelled by urination
Urethra — tube that carries urine from the bladder for urination. In males, the urethra travels through the penis and carries semen as well as urine. In females, the urethra is shorter and ends above the vaginal opening.
Most infections involve the bladder and the urethra. This is because the urethra is close to the anus, making it easy for bacteria from the large intestine, such as E. coli, to come in contact with the urethra. From there, bacteria travel up to the bladder and multiply. If the infection isn’t treated, it can continue on to infect the kidneys.
Bacterial infection of the lower urinary tract is very common and occurs in all age groups, from the newborn to the elderly. But women are especially prone to UTIs. “Some experts rank your lifetime risk of getting one as high as 1 in 2,” reports WebMD. Babies born with urinary tract abnormalities that don’t allow urine to leave the body normally or cause urine to back up in the urethra have an increased risk of UTIs. Infections are common in children, too.
“By the time they’re 5 years old, about 8 percent of girls and about 1-2 percent of boys have had at least one.”
Young men have a low risk for UTIs. The most common cause in an otherwise healthy adult male is a sexually transmitted disease. In rare cases, UTIs in young men are caused by anatomic abnormalities.
Many women experience repeated infections during their lifetimes due to risk factors that include:
A shorter urethra, reducing the distance bacteria travel to reach the bladder.
Sexually active women have more UTIs than inactive women, and a new sexual partner increases this risk. Bacteria are introduced into the urethra from the genital area and anus. Friction also irritates the urethra.
Diaphragms, sponges and spermicidal birth control methods increase a woman’s risk. The location of the diaphragm prevents the bladder from emptying fully, allowing urine and bacteria to collect.
The pain and disruption that a UTI brings to your life can be frustrating, especially if you’re prone to repeated infections like many women.
Lower estrogen levels after menopause affect the urinary tract and make women more vulnerable to infection.
The most common UTIs in women are:
Cystitis — infection of the bladder, usually caused by E. coli, bacteria commonly found in the gastrointestinal, or GI, tract.
Urethritis — infection of the urethra caused by GI bacteria that spread from the anus to the urethra. Sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea and chlamydia, can also cause urethritis due to the proximity of the urethra to the vagina.
UTIs are often mistaken for other conditions, and they don’t always cause symptoms. But when they do they may include:
A strong, frequent urge to urinate
A burning feeling when urinating
Passing only small amounts of urine
Urine that is cloudy and has a strong odor
Red, pink or brown urine, indicating blood
Pelvic pain in women
About 1 in 5 women experience a second urinary tract infection, and others suffer them repeatedly for long periods of time. Some strains of bacteria establish an antibiotic-resistant community that re-invade and attack a woman’s immune system over and over.
Some women have structural abnormalities in their urinary tract that make them more susceptible to infection, and others are genetically predisposed to UTIs. Hormones in pregnant women cause changes in the urinary tract, making UTIs common during pregnancy. Additionally, as the uterus enlarges, it presses on the bladder and prevents it from fully emptying. Bacteria in the stagnant urine increase the risk of infection.
About 1 in 5 women experience a second urinary tract infection, and others suffer them repeatedly for long periods of time.
Kidney stones or an enlarged prostate can trap urine in the bladder and increase the risk of UTIs. Diabetes, multiple sclerosis, HIV and other diseases that suppress the immune system increase the risk of UTIs.
It’s important to see your family doctor or urologist immediately if you suspect a urinary tract infection so it can be treated with antibiotics to prevent the spread to your kidneys. Reduce your risk by:
(1) Drinking plenty of liquids, especially water, to dilute your urine. Urinating more frequently flushes bacteria from your urinary tract before an infection can begin.
(2) Wiping from front to back to prevent bacteria in the anal region from spreading to the vagina and urethra.
(3) Emptying your bladder right after intercourse, and drinking a full glass of water to help flush bacteria.
(4) Avoiding irritating products including bubble baths, douches, sprays and powders that can irritate your urethra.
(5) Changing your birth control method. Unlubricated or spermicide-treated condoms and diaphragms encourage bacterial growth.
Do you experience frequent UTIs? Revere Health Urology providers specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of pediatric and adult urinary problems in eight easy-to-access Utah locations. We offer compassionate, personalized care tailored to your unique needs.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.