Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common infections resulting from bacterial growth in the bladder. They’re unpleasant conditions, causing pain when urinating and frequent visits to the bathroom. In addition, they can become quite severe in some populations and require antibiotic treatment.
Knowing this, it is helpful to know what factors may put you at risk of a UTI and what you can do to prevent this infection from occurring.
Table of Contents
- UTI Risk Factors
- How to Prevent a UTI?
- When to See a Doctor?
- How Can DrHouse Help You?
- Key Takeaways
UTI Risk Factors
One of the greatest risk factors for UTIs is gender, with females more likely to get a UTI than men. This is because the female body has a shorter urethra, meaning bacteria have an easier time reaching the bladder. Compared to men, the urethra in women is also closer to the anus, increasing the chances of bacteria being passed from the anus to the urethra and becoming a UTI.
Other risk factors of UTIs include:
- sexual activity
- a previous UTI
- structural problems in the urinary tract (e.g., an enlarged prostate, kidney stones)
- changes in the bacterial microenvironment of the vagina (e.g., from menopause or spermicides)
- poor hygiene (e.g., potty-training children)
- catheter use
- age (young children and older adults are at greater risk)
- a suppressed immune system
- holding your pee
How to Prevent a UTI?
Knowing the many risk factors for a UTI, we can now take a closer look at the habits you can adopt or drop to prevent UTIs from occurring.
Water is an essential part of our body’s proper functioning, and drinking water can also help prevent UTIs.
The benefits of water are relatively simple; when you drink more water, you need to urinate more, which flushes bacteria out of the urinary tract more often. The longer you go between peeing, the longer bacteria have to travel through the urinary tract and begin multiplying. So, urinating more often helps to halt the bacteria and remove them from the body.
While water is the best choice for hydration, any type of fluid will help you urinate more often.
Urinate Before and After Sex
The risk of a UTI increases with sexual activity, and this is because sex can introduce bacteria to the urethra, especially in women. To help reduce this risk, try urinating immediately before and after sex, which can help flush out bacteria that might otherwise cause a UTI.
To further reduce your UTI risk due to sex, you can also wash your genitals with water and a mild soap before sex, which can help keep the area clean.
Wipe from Front to Back
The rectum is a prominent source of E. coli, the most common cause of UTIs, which is why, after using the bathroom, it is important to wipe from front to back. This is especially important for women, and an important habit to teach children going through potty training. By wiping in this direction, you are less likely to bring E. coli from the anus to the urethra, limiting your risk of UTI.
Adhering to this hygiene rule is especially important when you are ill with diarrhea. Diarrhea can make bowel movements more difficult to control, increasing the risk of bacteria spreading to the urethra. So, even when your digestive system is not working as you would like, still be sure to wipe front to back to prevent further problems.
Good bacteria can be found throughout the body, playing an essential role in controlling the growth of harmful bacteria. The urinary tract is one location where these good bacteria can be found, and probiotics may help promote their growth, which can help prevent a UTI.
Some ways to increase the amount of probiotics you get include:
- taking probiotic supplements
- eating fermented foods (e.g., kefir, yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut)
- using probiotic suppositories
Don’t Hold Your Pee
While it can seem annoying to rush to the bathroom whenever you get the urge to pee, and some occupations or other activities may make bathroom breaks difficult, it is crucial not to hold your pee. When you refrain from urinating, your pee collects in your bladder, allowing bacterial growth.
If possible, try not to wait for any more than 3 to 4 hours to pee, and when you do visit the restroom, make sure you completely empty your bladder.
Change Birth Control
Various birth control methods may contribute to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria, with some of these being:
- spermicide condoms
- non-lubricated condoms
If you currently use one of these types of birth control and think that they may be contributing to any UTIs, discuss alternative birth control methods with your doctor.
Avoid Scented Products
The genital area is very sensitive, and scented products can throw off its natural balance. For example, the vagina contains a flourishing microbiome of more than 50 different microbes. Many of these are good bacteria that keep the pH balance of the vagina at an ideal level. This pH balance is important, as it kills any harmful bacteria before they have the chance to affect the vagina or the urethra, which is close by.
However, scented products intended for the genital area can disrupt the good bacteria in the vagina, altering the pH level and allowing harmful bacteria to overgrow. This can result in several problems, including bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and UTIs.
To keep your vagina in good balance, try to avoid the following:
- scented pads or tampons
- deodorant sprays
- scented powders
When to See a Doctor?
Sometimes we do all we can to prevent a UTI, but still end up with one. Don’t feel discouraged, as some of the risk factors for a UTI are entirely out of our control, such as if you commonly get UTIs due to structural blockages.
Still, if you notice the symptoms of a UTI, such as burning or pain when urinating or feeling like you need to urinate (even if you just did), it is time to talk to a doctor. Antibiotics are the only way to treat a UTI, and your doctor can help you by writing a prescription.
If you suffer from frequent UTIs, your doctor can also help discuss what might be causing them and if any other interventions can help prevent these frequent UTIs.
Some people may avoid going to the doctor and instead manage their symptoms with OTC medications. However, it is crucial to remember that while OTC medications may aid the body’s natural response to removing the bacteria, they cannot kill the bacteria, so if your symptoms persist for 3 days, it is time to see a doctor.
How Can DrHouse Help You?
If you develop a UTI, the DrHouse app offers a convenient way to connect you with an online doctor, who can then write an antibiotic prescription for your UTI. In just 15 minutes, you can discuss with a doctor what symptoms you have, what you can do to treat the UTI, and what steps you should take in the future to prevent other UTIs from developing.
UTIs are common and have a range of risk factors, including gender, age, sexual activity, pregnancy, hygiene, and birth control method. Some of these risk factors cannot be modified, but with others certain habits can be altered or adapted to help prevent UTIs.
Staying hydrated, following good hygiene, taking probiotics, and avoiding scented products are just a few of the steps you can take to prevent a UTI. However, taking these precautions still does not limit the risk entirely, so if a UTI develops, DrHouse offers quick and convenient doctor’s appointments to help you get the medication you need to feel better.
- Sumati, A., & Saritha, N. (2009). Association of urinary tract infection in women with bacterial vaginosis. Journal Of Global Infectious Diseases, 1(2), 151. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.4103/0974-777x.56254
- Klein, R., & Hultgren, S. (2020). Urinary tract infections: microbial pathogenesis, host–pathogen interactions and new treatment strategies. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 18(4), 211-226. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1038/s41579-020-0324-0
- Fihn, S., Boyko, E., Normand, E., Chen, C., Grafton, J., & Hunt, M. et al. (1996). Association between Use of Spermicide-coated Condoms and Escherichia coli Urinary Tract infection in Young Women. American Journal Of Epidemiology, 144(5), 512-520. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a008958
- Recurrent Uncomplicated Urinary Tract Infections in Women: AUA/CUA/SUFU Guideline (2022) – American Urological Association. (2022). https://www.auanet.org/guidelines/guidelines/recurrent-uti#x14269
- Flores-Mireles, A., Walker, J., Caparon, M., & Hultgren, S. (2015). Urinary tract infections: epidemiology, mechanisms of infection and treatment options. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 13(5), 269-284. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro3432
- Akgul, T., & Karakan, T. (2018). The role of probiotics in women with recurrent urinary tract infections. Türk Üroloji Dergisi/Turkish Journal Of Urology, 44(5), 377-383. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.5152/tud.2018.48742