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7 Essential Things You Need to Know About Recurrent UTIs

— July 13, 2020

Frequent UTIs always need medical attention and should be treated in time, as they might be life-threatening if left ignored.

A UTI is a common infection that can occur in any part of the urinary tract. Almost all people will experience UTI at some point. 

This infection usually appears when bacteria that are found in your gut get into the urethra. Instead of being removed from the body or being eliminated by your immune system, the bacteria start to colonize the urinary tract.

UTI is characterized by pain, a burning sensation while urinating, and frequent urges to urinate. A typical UTI can be easily treated with antibiotics, but in some cases, it can move up the urinary tract and cause a kidney infection. Kidney infection usually manifests itself with a high fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and requires immediate treatment. When a UTI comes back again and again it’s called a recurrent UTI. So, let’s look at seven things about frequent UTIs you need to know (especially if you’re a woman).

1. Certain diseases can make you more susceptible to frequent UTIs.

The most common diseases that can make you more prone to UTIs involve retention of the urine, or an impaired ability to empty the bladder fully and frequently. This causes stagnant urine. Stagnant urine allows infection-causing bacteria to multiply.

These issues are spinal cord injury or nerve damage around the bladder. This leads to trouble emptying the bladder and kidney stones that block the flow of urine.

Another common disorder that can provoke recurrent UTIs is diabetes since it’s often accompanied by nerve damage. Nerve damage in the bladder can decrease the sensation of the ability to fully empty the bladder. A weakened immune system also makes you more prone to infections including UTIs. Finally, bad bacteria feed on the excess amounts of sugar that get to the urine when blood sugar levels are high.

2. Frequent UTIs are a very common problem among women. 

According to several studies, 30% to 44% of women who get a UTI will have a second one within six months. Most of these women will be healthy. Actually anatomy itself might be the single biggest risk factor for UTIs.

Most UTIs are caused by the bacterium E. coli, which lives in the gastrointestinal tract and in your poop. It can cause an infection if they get to the urinary tract. The genital anatomy of a woman is set up in a way that makes this trip very quick and easy for that bacterium. The distance between the anus and the urethra is very short, which makes E. coli climb up into the bladder more easily. Men actually tend to have a bigger distance between their anus and their urethra, which makes these infections less likely albeit still possible.

3. Menopause is a common risk factor for recurrent UTIs. 

Older women during menopause are also prone to recurrent UTIs. This is due to the fact that postmenopausal women have low estrogen levels. Low estrogen levels affect the vaginal pH and flora. This makes the vagina a more friendly environment to the kind of bacteria that provoke UTIs. If you struggle with frequent UTIs during your menopause, talk to your gynecologist about available options. They might prescribe you topical estrogen, which lowers the risk of recurrent UTIs.

4. Some people are just more susceptible to frequent UTIs.

Some people are more prone to frequent UTIs due to inherited and genetic factors. Having at least one first-degree relative with a history of experiencing five or more UTIs is a risk factor for frequent UTIs. Actually, certain people have cells with receptors that bacteria can ‘stick’ to more easily making them more susceptible to kidney and bladder infections.

5. Sex increases the risk of frequent UTIs.

Sex is another UTI risk factor, and having sex three or more times a week or having sex with new partners or multiple partners can especially put you at risk of recurrent UTIs.

Sex can push bad bacteria to the wrong place, like your urethra. However, it’s not just vaginal intercourse. Sexual activity involving fingers, toys, or anything that causes movement of bacteria can increase the risk of UTIs. Therefore, peeing after sex is a common UTIs preventive measure. This can help flush the contaminated urine out before harmful bacteria start to colonize.

6. Cranberry juice can’t cure UTIs.

Cranberry juice with ice; image by Jez Timms, via
Cranberry juice with ice; image by Jez Timms, via

If you have ever heard that cranberry juice can treat UTIs, it’s not true. However, there is some research that suggests that cranberry juice could help prevent UTIs. This is due to the fact that an ingredient called proanthocyanidins that are contained in cranberry juice and supplements, might be helpful in preventing bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract and bladder.

7. You can still prevent recurrent UTIs. 

If you’ve had only one UTI before, then you probably know that things like drinking a lot of water, not holding your pee in, and wiping front to back are helpful in UTI prevention. However, these simple measures might or might not help prevent your UTIs.

Consuming enough water and peeing frequently (especially after sex) is still good since it can help prevent bacteria from colonizing in your urinary tract and kidneys. Also, wiping from front to back helps stop harmful bacteria contained in fecal matter from making its way from the anus to the urethra. 

Frequent UTIs always need medical attention and should be treated in time, as they might be life-threatening if left ignored.

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