Can Wearing Incontinence Pads Cause a UTI?

Incontinence pads can be a lifesaver for those with difficulty controlling their bladder because of their ability to help contain embarrassing leaks. However, can incontinence pads cause a UTI?

Incontinence pads cannot cause a UTI, but they can increase your risk of a UTI, which is why proper hygiene and management of your pads are crucial for reducing this risk. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Incontinence pads can’t cause a UTI.
  • Incontinence pads can increase your risk of a UTI.
  • Changing incontinence pads regularly, washing your hands before and after changing them, and cleaning/drying your genitals during each change can help reduce the risk of a UTI. 

Table of Contents

Can Wearing Incontinence Pads Cause a UTI?

Unfortunately, incontinence problems aren’t enough; they now come with an increased risk of UTIs, or at least when using an incontinence pad. 

While incontinence pads do not cause a UTI, based on data from various studies, it does appear that using incontinence pads increases the risk of a UTI. However, there are a couple of different ways in which they may contribute to this increased risk, and it doesn’t appear like there is one specific link. 

How Can Using Incontinence Pads Increase Your Risk for a UTI?

There are a couple of ways in which incontinence pads increase the risk of UTIs. First and foremost, incontinence pads (specifically those that are used) create an environment that bacteria love: hot and humid. When bacteria are in a favorable environment, they can begin growing and reproducing, and because your urethra is also in contact with the incontinence pad, this increases the risk of bacteria traveling into the urethra and up the urinary tract. 

Also, since incontinence pads sit right at the genitals, which is where the urethra is located, if they harbor bacteria, whether from the vagina (in women), from changing the pad with dirty hands, or from being contaminated by stool, the bacteria is more likely to enter the urethra. 

How Can You Reduce the Risks of Getting a UTI?

Proper management and hygiene are key for reducing the risk of a UTI with incontinence pad usage. 

Change Your Pad Regularly

Beyond the chafing that can occur if you don’t change your incontinence pad when necessary, leaving it unchanged provides more time for bacteria to grow, increasing the risk of a UTI. Generally, experts recommend changing your pad four to six times a day or, preferably, whenever it gets wet. You’ll feel more comfortable with a dry pad, and you’ll also remove something that creates a favorable environment for bacterial growth.

As for when you’re sleeping, make sure to use a pad designed for overnight use, as they tend to absorb more and offer additional coverage to prevent leaking. 

Wash Your Hands Before Changing

Now that we know how important it is to change your pad regularly, it’s time to discuss the importance of washing your hands first. If you think about it, your hands are some of the dirtiest parts of your body because they are used to touch everything. They hold all kinds of bacteria, which is why, before touching anything that is going to be near your genitals, it is essential to wash your hands. In fact, you should wash your hands before and after handling an incontinence pad to further prevent the spread of bacteria.  

Clean and Dry When Changing Pads

Not only is it important to change your pad whenever it becomes wet, but it is also important to clean and dry the area before going on with your day. This helps to remove the moisture that bacteria thrive in, leaving you with a dry genital area. 

Furthermore, cleaning the genital area between pads helps to remove any bacteria that may be present. 

What to Do if You Get a UTI?

If you get a UTI and notice symptoms of painful urination, frequently needing to urinate, or being unable to empty your bladder completely, it’s best to reach out to a doctor. While UTIs can sometimes go away on their own, more often than not, they require an antibiotic prescription to treat, and a doctor is the only way to get this medication. 

In Conclusion

Incontinence pads are a must for those who struggle to control their bladder, but research has also shown that they can increase the risk of UTIs. This is likely because incontinence pads, when used, create the hot and humid environment that bacteria love, making it easier for them to grow. 

Some tips you can follow when using incontinence pads to decrease your UTI risk include changing them regularly, washing your hands before and after changing them, and cleaning and drying your genitals during each change.

Sources:

  • Omli, R., Skotnes, L. H., Romild, U., Bakke, A., Mykletun, A., & Kuhry, E. (2010). Pad per day usage, urinary incontinence, and urinary tract infections in nursing home residents. Age and Aging, 39(5), 549–554. https://doi.org/10.1093/ageing/afq082 
  • 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 
  • Al-Badr, A., & Al-Shaikh, G. (2013). Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Management in Women: A review. Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, 13(3), 359–367. https://doi.org/10.12816/0003256 
  • Mulvey, M. A., Schilling, J. D., & Hultgren, S. J. (2001). Establishment of a persistent Escherichia coli reservoir during the acute phase of a bladder infection. Infection and immunity, 69(7), 4572–4579. https://doi.org/10.1128/IAI.69.7.4572-4579.2001 
  • Larsen, E. T., Caroline Lunne Fahnøe, Peter Errboe Jensen, & Gregersen, M. (2023). Absorbent incontinence pad use and the association with urinary tract infection and frailty: A retrospective cohort study. International Journal of Nursing Studies Advances, 5, 100131–100131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnsa.2023.100131 
  • ‌Newman D. K. (2004). Incontinence products and devices for the elderly. Urologic nursing, 24(4), 316–334, PMID: 15446380.

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