Doctor’s Orders: Why Women Get UTIs and How to Prevent Them

You can take several steps to avoid the painful infection

A UTI can occur in any part of the urinary tract. Sergey Zolkin/Unsplash

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are much more common in women than men. Over 50 percent of women will have at least one UTI in her lifetime, and up to 40 percent of UTIs are recurring within six months after the initial episode.

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A urinary tract infection can occur in any part of the urinary tract, beginning with the kidneys. The bean-shaped kidneys filter waste products from the blood, which creates urine. Urine then flows through tubes called the ureters to the bladder, which stores urine until it is eliminated from the body. When the urine exits the bladder, it flows through the urethra out of the body.

There are several reasons why women are more prone to developing UTIs:

  • Holding urine for too long. Women have a tendency to “hold” urine until they absolutely have to go. However, doing so allows bacteria to flourish instead of being flushed from the body.
  • Improper bathroom hygiene. Wiping from back to front after using the bathroom can lead to a UTI. This type of motion will drag bacteria from the rectal area towards the urethra. Women should always wipe from front to back, which helps to ensure bacteria in stools are wiped in the opposite direction of the urethra.
  • Sexual intercourse. Most women will have bacteria in their urine after intercourse, so it’s strongly advisable to urinate both before and especially after sexual intercourse to decrease the chance of an infection.
  • Use of spermicides as birth control. The chemical in spermicides (condoms, foams, gels, etc.) can irritate the urethra and lead to an infection. Unlubricated condoms can bruise urethral tissue, further contributing to risk of developing a UTI.
  • Exposure to chemical products. Using certain soaps, powders, perfumes, vaginal deodorants and douching can increase the risk of developing a UTI
  • Family history of UTIs. If a woman’s mother had several UTIs during her life, then she may be predisposed to them. Additionally, having a UTI before the age of 15 increases a woman’s chance of future UTIs.
  • Pregnancy. Pregnant women have a greater risk of UTIs because the body is adjusting to the demands of a growing baby.
  • Menopause. When women go through menopause, there is a loss of estrogen, which changes the normal bacteria in the vagina. Menopause can also cause thinning of the urinary tract wall, which weakens mucous membranes, thereby reducing the urinary tract’s ability to fight off infections.

There are several things women can do to decrease their risk of developing a UTI:

  • Consume 100 percent cranberry juice. Cranberry juice contains a compound called proanthocyanidins that keeps bacteria from adhering to the cells lining the bladder and urethra. It’s best to consume unsweetened cranberry juice; sugar from sweetened cranberry juice can irritate the urinary tract.
  • Don’t hold in urine. Use the restroom as soon you feel you might need to eliminate urine.
  • Wear underwear with a cotton crotch. Avoid fabric that traps moisture.
  • Always wipe from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement.
  • Always urinate after having sex.
  • Take showers rather than baths.
  • Drink plenty of water each day to help flush out bacteria.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team Learn more at roboticoncology.com. Visit Dr. Samadi’s blog at SamadiMD.com. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest and Facebook.

Doctor’s Orders: Why Women Get UTIs and How to Prevent Them