Count yourself lucky if you haven’t experienced a urinary tract infection (UTI) because they’re incredibly common in women, and they can be very uncomfortable. The pain, burning, and frequent urge to urinate are bad enough, but in severe cases, you may not be able to urinate, and you can develop a serious kidney infection.
Here at Fred A. Williams, MD, we offer comprehensive gynecological care, which includes diagnosing and treating urinary tract infections. If you develop any symptoms, we can run tests to determine whether you have a UTI, then provide the treatment you need. Here’s some information that will help you better understand and prevent UTIs.
Primary cause of UTIs
The primary cause of most UTIs is bacteria, or more specifically, a type of bacteria called Escherichia coli (E. coli). While you can get a UTI from other types of bacteria, E.coli is the culprit 90% of the time.
- coli aren’t normally found in your urinary tract. They invade the urinary tract from outside your body, which is easy enough because these bacteria thrive in your intestine and anus.
Bacteria that originate around the anus are typically found on the tissues outside the urethral opening. Women get UTIs up to 30 times more frequently than men because the distance from the anus to the urethra is shorter in women.
A small number of bacteria near the urethra doesn’t usually cause an infection because urine doesn’t give them the opportunity to travel up into the urinary tract. When you urinate, the flow simply flushes away E. coli that might have entered the urethra. Additionally, your urine is normally acidic; too acidic for bacteria to live.
However, when a large number of bacteria make their way to your urethra, they can overcome your natural defenses and cause a UTI. In most cases, UTIs occur in your bladder, where the infection is called cystitis. In some cases, E. coli make it to your kidneys, which causes a potentially severe infection.
Risk of recurrent UTIs
The experts estimate that 40% of all women who develop a UTI will go on to have at least one more infection in the next six months. In other words, recurrent UTIs are quite common. However, if you have more than two UTIs in six months, or more than three within a year, it’s important to come in for an appointment so we can help you find ways to prevent ongoing infections.
During an exam, we’ll determine if you have an underlying condition that increases your risk for recurrent UTIs and treat that condition. For example, kidney or bladder stones and an abnormally shaped urinary tract can increase your risk for infections.
Postmenopausal women are also susceptible to UTIs because the loss of estrogen affects tissues in the urethra, making them thin, weak, and less elastic — changes that make it easier for bacteria to invade.
Tips to prevent UTIs
After you experience your first UTI, you may wonder how you can prevent future infections. Following these tips will help reduce your risk:
- Drink plenty of fluids so that you urinate often enough to eliminate bacteria
- Urinate when you feel the need
- Wipe from front to back after urination or a bowel movement
- Take showers rather than baths
- Urinate after intercourse
- Don’t use deodorant sprays or feminine products in the genital area
You can also lower your chance of developing a UTI if you avoid tight-fitting undergarments and wear fabrics that breathe, such as cotton.
If you have any questions about UTIs and how to prevent them, call us at Fred A. Williams, MD, or schedule an appointment online.