Various surveys have shown an increased link between women on birth control and urinary tract infections (UTIs), which raises the question: can birth control cause a UTI, or is there another connection?
Birth control cannot cause a UTI, but some types can increase the risk of a UTI happening.
However, this is not true for all kinds of birth control, so the connection between birth control and UTIs is instead likely to stem from those on birth control being more sexually active, which is a risk factor for UTIs.
Continue reading for more information on what factors may increase your risk of UTI, how to prevent one, and what you can do if you suspect you have a UTI.
- UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract.
- Birth control does not directly cause UTIs, but some types may increase the risk.
- Research has shown that diaphragms, spermicides, and cervical caps can increase the risk of UTIs.
- If you are prone to UTIs, you may want to consider a different form of birth control.
- Proper hygiene and avoiding irritants can also help prevent UTIs.
- UTIs are treated with antibiotics.
- If you suspect you have a UTI seek treatment from a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Table of Contents
- What Are UTIs?
- Can Birth Control Cause a UTI?
- What Types of Birth Control Can Increase the Risk of UTIs?
- Can Birth Control Pills Cause a UTI or Increase Its Risks?
- What Else Can Increase the Risk of Getting a UTI?
- What Can You Do to Prevent UTIs?
- How Can You Treat a UTI?
- When to See a Doctor?
- Key Takeaways
What Are UTIs?
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are most often bacterial infections of the urinary tract, which includes the bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra. UTIs may also result from viruses and fungi, but this is less common.
UTIs are unpleasant infections with symptoms that often include:
- pain or discomfort when peeing
- needing to pee more often
- suddenly needing to pee
- pain low in the stomach
- feeling as though you cannot completely empty your bladder
- cloudy, bloody, or foul-smelling urine
The bacteria that is usually responsible for a UTI is E. coli, which is most commonly found around the anus and can infect the urinary tract when it is spread to the urethra. Many actions may facilitate this spread, such as wiping from back to front after going to the bathroom or having sex.
Can Birth Control Cause a UTI?
Since a UTI results from a bacterial infection, birth control cannot cause a UTI. However, some types of birth control may increase your risk of developing a UTI. This is generally because of their influence on the pH levels of your vagina, which has a lush microflora full of good bacteria. The job of these good bacteria is to keep harmful bacteria, such as E. Coli, under control.
If your birth control lessens the number of good bacteria in your vagina, E. Coli and other harmful bacteria can run unchecked and may be able to infect the urethra more easily and then spread up the urinary tract.
So, while birth control cannot cause a UTI, it may increase your risk of a UTI occurring.
What Types of Birth Control Can Increase the Risk of UTIs?
Not all types of birth control increase the risk of UTIs, but research has shown that the following may.
Spermicide is a gel, cream, suppository, or foam that kills sperm and blocks the cervix. It may be used by itself or combined with cervical caps, diaphragms, or condoms. Spermicide can increase the risk of UTIs by disrupting the balance of bacteria in the vagina, allowing harmful bacteria to overgrow.
A diaphragm is a silicone cup placed inside the vagina and fitted over the cervix. This allows the diaphragm to create a barrier between the uterus and sperm. However, a diaphragm may increase the risk of a UTI because it places pressure on the urethra, making it difficult to empty the bladder completely. When urine remains in your bladder, there is a greater risk of bacteria growing and becoming an infection.
Similar to a diaphragm, the cervical cap prevents sperm from entering the uterus. Its main distinction, though, is that it is smaller and more tightly fitting than a diaphragm.
Like a diaphragm, the cervical cap increases the risk of a UTI because it places pressure on the urethra, making it difficult to completely empty the bladder.
Can Birth Control Pills Cause a UTI or Increase Its Risks?
Birth control pills are one of the most common methods of birth control, and studies have shown that they do not cause UTIs or increase their risk of occurring.
Some women have reported having more UTIs while on birth control pills, but this is likely due to another reason—women who take birth control pills are, generally, having more sex.
Having sex is a risk factor for UTIs since the act of sexual intercourse can introduce bacteria to the urethra. For instance, while sperm does not cause a UTI, men with a UTI can introduce the bacteria causing their infection to their partner during sex, which may result in a UTI. Also, the general act of sexual intercourse can cause bacteria to spread from the anus to the vagina, again increasing the risk of UTI.
Because women on birth control are expected to have more sex, experts believe that this is likely why women on birth control have more UTIs.
What Else Can Increase the Risk of Getting a UTI?
In addition to some birth control methods and having sex, other things can increase your risk of getting a UTI.
Scented Feminine Products
Just like how spermicide can mess with the pH of your vagina, so can scented products applied to the vagina. Scented tampons or pads, scented powders, scented/flavored lube, and deodorant sprays can all disrupt the vaginal microbiome, leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
Holding Your Pee
Holding in your pee provides an opportunity for bacteria to grow and become an infection.
This time in a woman’s life is characterized by decreased estrogen levels, which can make the vaginal tissue dry and thin. Unfortunately, these vaginal changes can also make it easier for bacteria to grow.
Not only can the hormonal changes experienced during pregnancy change the bacteria in the urinary tract, but some women may not be able to empty their bladder completely, which also increases the risk of UTI.
Having a Weak Immune System
Anything that weakens your immune system can make it harder for your body to clear out bacteria, increasing the risk that the bacteria continue to grow and reproduce, reaching infection level. Whether it’s an illness, medication, or lifestyle habit, if it can weaken your immune system, it also increases your risk of getting a UTI.
Undergoing a Catheter Procedure
A catheter is a tube placed in the bladder to help empty it. Because it creates an initiation site into the bladder, catheters also provide a way for bacteria to reach the bladder and can increase the risk of a UTI occurring. Those who use catheters long-term, in particular, are at an even higher UTI risk.
Kidney stones can block urine flow between the kidneys and bladders, keeping urine inside the body for longer and increasing the risk of bacteria growing.
What Can You Do to Prevent UTIs?
Those who experience frequent UTIs can try adopting the following tips to prevent their occurrence.
Try Alternative Birth Control Methods
While spermicide (on its own and infused in other birth control methods, such as condoms), diaphragms, and cervical caps may increase your risk of developing a UTI, other birth control methods do not.
If you receive frequent UTIs, it may be worthwhile switching your birth control method to one of the following:
- an intrauterine device (IUD)
- condoms (without spermicide)
- Depo-Provera shot
- birth control patch
- a contraceptive implant
- tubal ligation or vasectomy
Urinate After Sex
The act of sex itself increases the risk of UTIs. Still, one habit that can help lessen the likelihood of a UTI is urinating after sex, as it helps to clear out any bacteria that may have made its way into the urethra during sex.
Wipe From Front to Back
Wiping from back to front after going to the bathroom increases the risk of bringing bacteria, especially E. Coli, from the anus to the urethra. Instead, wipe from front to back.
How Can You Treat a UTI?
If you have a UTI, it’s best to begin treatment as soon as possible to stop the infection from spreading and find relief from the unpleasant symptoms. Most UTIs are treated with antibiotics, and the typical treatment course lasts only a few days.
In addition to antibiotics, you can also treat a UTI with some home remedies, including drinking plenty of water, using a heating pad, and avoiding irritating foods and beverages (e.g., citrus, caffeine, alcohol).
When to See a Doctor?
If you experience any symptoms of a UTI, including frequent urination, pain or burning when urinating, bloody or cloudy urine, abdominal pressure or pain, or a fever, reach out to your doctor. UTIs are most commonly treated with antibiotics and reaching out to your doctor as soon as possible allows your infection to be treated quickly.
If you’re looking for a quick and convenient way to get treatment, use DrHouse to meet with a doctor. Our app allows you to meet with an online doctor in just 15 minutes to discuss your symptoms and get an antibiotic prescription, entirely online.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are among the most common infections, especially among women. They occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract, most often through the urethra, and one way in which this can happen is through sex.
In addition to the act of sex itself, the birth control method you use may also increase your risk of a UTI because it aids the harmful bacteria causing it. Spermicide (alone and in other products), diaphragms, and cervical caps are all birth control methods associated with a higher risk of UTI.
However, many other things can also cause a UTI. If you experience frequent UTIs, ensure you are avoiding these risk factors and talk to your doctor for advice on how else to prevent UTIs.
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