If you are a woman, your chances of getting at least one urinary tract infection in your lifetime are as high as 50 percent. Why are women at such high risk for UTIs? The basic answer lies in the anatomy surrounding the urinary tract.
The urinary tract is the system that collects waste and extra fluid from the blood and removes it from the body as urine. It consists of the kidneys, bladder, tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder called ureters, and the tube that lets urine flow out of the body called the urethra.
Most UTIs are caused by bacteria that get into the urinary tract through the urethra.
According to MedicineNet.com, 90 percent of uncomplicated UTIs are caused by the E. coli bacteria, which live inside the intestines. E. coli can also be found around the anus where bowel movements leave the body.
Because the anus is located close to the urethra in women, E. coli bacteria from the anus can sometimes get into the urethra and cause a UTI. The most common causes of this type of infection in women are wiping incorrectly and sexual intercourse.
After using the toilet, women should always wipe from front to back. This motion moves bacteria away from the urethra instead of pulling it from the anus toward the urethra.
Sexual intercourse can also push bacteria into the urethra. This may explain why some women develop UTIs on their honeymoons.
Urinating soon after sex may reduce this risk of developing a UTI since urine flowing out of the bladder can help push bacteria out of the urethra.
Other factors than may increase your risk of a UTI include:
• Blocked urine passage — Kidney stones or any abnormality in the urinary tract that causes urine to back up in the bladder may increase the risk of infection.
• Holding urine — Waiting longer to use the toilet gives bacteria in the urinary tract more time to multiply, which increases the risk of infection.
• Birth control — Women who use a diaphragm for birth control may be at higher risk of developing UTIs, as may women who use spermicides.
• Menopause — Lower levels of estrogen after menopause can cause changes in the urinary tract that increase the risk of infection.
• Immune issues — People who have an impaired immune system, such as those with diabetes, HIV/AIDS or people taking chemotherapy to treat cancer may have an increased risk of infection.
• Catheter — If you need to use a catheter tube to pass urine because you cannot urinate on your own, you may be at increased risk.
Men are less likely to develop UTIs because of the longer distance from the anus to the urethra, which is located inside the penis. But they are not immune. Having an enlarged prostate that makes it harder to empty the bladder can increase the risk of a UTI, especially in older men.
Urinary tract infections can make your life miserable with a persistent need to urinate, extra trips to the bathroom with little or no relief, and burning pain when urinating.
Other symptoms of a UTI include urine with a strong or unusual odor and pelvic pain. Urine that looks cloudy, red, bright pink or cola-colored, might mean there is blood in the urine.
If untreated, a UTI in the bladder can travel up to the kidneys and do permanent damage. If you have symptoms of a UTI, go see your doctor. A simple test of your urine in the doctor’s office can determine whether you need antibiotics to treat the infection.
Reviewed February 5, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
Web MD. Your Guide to Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs). Web. February 3, 2016.
Mayo Clinic. Urinary tract infection (UTI). Web. February 3, 2016.
U.S. Office on Women’s Health. Urinary tract infection fact sheet. Web. February 3, 2016.