The choice of which menstrual product to use when you’re on your period is a very personal one. You might prefer pads or tampons, or perhaps you even like to use a menstrual cup or period panties. Whichever you prefer, being informed about each option helps you to make the right choice for your body and comfort.
Around 50-60% of women experience a UTI in their lifetime. But can tampons cause a UTI?
What Is a UTI?
UTI stands for urinary tract infection, a very common type of bacterial infection, especially for women. Due to the shorter female urethra and its proximity to the vagina and anus, women are more likely to get UTIs. A UTI can cause a number of symptoms, such as pain when urinating and feeling the need to pee more often.
Can You Get a UTI from a Tampon or Pad?
UTIs are caused by bacteria from elsewhere (usually the anus or vagina) entering the urinary tract. When thinking about cleanliness during your period, you might be concerned about whether the products you choose to use could increase the risk of bacteria entering your urethra.
Firstly, the important thing to remember is that the urethra and vagina are different. This might seem obvious to some, but studies often show that women know less about their own bodies than you might expect. When you use a tampon, you insert it into your vagina, not into your urethra (where you pee from). Nevertheless, you might have heard that using tampons can cause UTIs. This isn’t strictly true, but there might be some connections between tampon use and UTIs.
Tampons themselves don’t cause UTIs, but there is some indication they can increase the risk compared to wearing pads. Changing your tampon frequently is important to prevent infections of all kinds. If the string has urine on it, this could contain bacteria that might get back into the urethra. Washing your hands before inserting a tampon is important too. The same goes for pads; wash your hands and change them frequently.
How Can You Get a UTI?
There are several things that can increase your risk of getting a UTI. UTIs are caused by bacteria getting into the urinary tract, which can happen in a number of ways.
There are things that you can do to prevent a UTI, including:
- Don’t hold in your pee – go when you need to
- Urinate before and after sex
- Wipe from front to back when going to the toilet
- Stay hydrated
- Don’t use douches or feminine sprays – you can use water and gentle soap to clean your vulva but there’s no need to clean inside the vagina
- Wear cotton underpants
What Can Tampons Cause?
Tampons don’t directly cause UTIs but they can lead to other infections. Something that you might already be aware of is toxic shock syndrome (TSS). This is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by bacteria getting into the body and releasing toxins. Wearing tampons for too long without changing them can increase your risk of toxic shock syndrome. So it’s important to remember to change your tampons often (at least every four to eight hours) and remove the last one you use at the end of your period. Use the lowest absorbency tampon you can too.
Tampons can also disrupt the vaginal mucosa, so they might increase the risk of developing an infection like bacterial vaginosis or cytolytic vaginosis. Using tampons responsibly can help to reduce the chances of this happening.
Can You Wear a Tampon with a UTI?
If you know or suspect that you have a UTI, some experts recommend not using a tampon. While there’s nothing preventing you from using a tampon while you have a UTI, some suggest that it could worsen the symptoms. On the other hand, some people recommend using tampons during your period to help prevent UTIs by keeping the vulva cleaner.
Do Tampons Make UTIs Worse?
There is some suggestion that tampons can make UTIs worse, but tampons on their own are probably not the culprit. The most important thing to remember is that you should change your tampon regularly to help maintain hygiene and prevent infection.
Is It Better to Wear a Pad or Tampon When You Have a UTI?
You can choose to use either pads or tampons (or another menstrual product) when you’re on your period. Some studies do suggest that women who use tampons could have a higher incidence of UTIs compared to those who use pads. If you use tampons often and find that you often get UTIs around your period, switching to pads could be the right choice for you, according to Dr. Navya Mysore.
When to See a Doctor?
You should see a doctor if you have the symptoms of a UTI or frequently get UTIs. A UTI needs to be treated with biotics, which you will take over a few days. Antibiotics need to be prescribed by a doctor or another qualified medical professional. The symptoms of UTIs include frequent urination, burning or pain when you pee, fever, dizziness, and pelvic pain.
Get Help from an Online Doctor
An online doctor can make it simple to schedule an appointment when you need one. If you see an online doctor, a virtual consultation allows you to speak to the doctor whenever and wherever it’s convenient for you. The doctor will be able to discuss your symptoms and provide a diagnosis and online prescription to allow you to collect antibiotics from your local pharmacy.
- Tampons don’t directly cause UTIs but there is a possibility using them could increase your risk of UTIs slightly
- It’s important to be aware of the other risks of tampons, such as toxic shock syndrome
- Tampons could worsen the symptoms of an existing UTI
- Try switching to pads if you think tampons could be a factor in recurring UTIs
- Schedule an appointment with a doctor if you think you have a UTI or want to discuss other issues relating to UTIs or menstruation
- Al-Badr A, Al-Shaikh G. Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Management in Women: A review. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2013 Aug;13(3):359-67. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.12816/0003256 . Epub 2013 Jun 25. PMID: 23984019; PMCID: PMC3749018.
- INTIMINA, 25% Of Women Can’t Correctly Identify Vagina (Infographic), Available from: https://www.intimina.com/blog/women-and-their-bodies/
- H.A. Omar, S. Aggarwal, K.C. Perkins, Tampon Use in Young Women, Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, Volume 11, Issue 3, 1998, Pages 143-146, ISSN 1083-3188, Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1083-3188(98)70134-2 .
- Office on Women’s Health, Urinary Tract Infections, Available from: https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/urinary-tract-infections
- Berkley SF, Hightower AW, Broome CV, Reingold AL. The Relationship of Tampon Characteristics to Menstrual Toxic Shock Syndrome. JAMA. 1987;258(7):917–920. Doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1001/jama.1987.03400070055034
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