What Are the Risk Factors for a UTI?

The experience of having a urinary tract infection isn’t pleasant. UTIs are fairly common, especially for women, but they can be irritating and painful. 

There are multiple risk factors for urinary tract infections, and it can be difficult to manage them all. However, being aware of them can help you to take steps to make them less likely.

Table of Contents

What Is a UTI?

A UTI or urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract. That includes the urethra, bladder, kidneys, and the ureters (the tubes between your kidneys and bladder). 

The symptoms of a UTI can include frequent urination or urge to urinate, pain when peeing, incomplete bladder emptying, and cloudy urine. Many people will have a urinary tract infection at some point in their life, including around 50-60% of women

While some may only experience one instance of a UTI, others can experience recurrent urinary tract infections due to a number of reasons.

UTI Risk Factors

Understanding the risk factors for UTI can help to make it easier to prevent them. There are multiple risk factors, including both some that can be controlled and others that cannot. Each risk factor could make it more likely that you will develop an infection in your urinary system or perhaps experience frequent urinary tract infections.

Women Are More Likely to Get UTIs

Your sex affects your risk of getting a UTI. UTIs are more common in females, which may be due to a combination of anatomical and behavioral reasons. In older adults, the occurrence of urinary tract infections is similar in men and women, whereas there is a bigger disparity for younger people. Whereas around half of women will experience UTIs, only a small number of men under the age of 50 will get them.

Older People Are at Risk of UTIs

Age is also a risk factor for UTIs. Men, in particular, are more likely to get UTIs as they age, especially after the age of 50. In elderly people, UTIs can sometimes cause confusion, which can be confused for a symptom of dementia. Nursing homes especially can see a high incidence of urinary tract infections. For women, menopause can also make urinary tract infections more likely.

Sexual Intercourse Can Be a Risk Factor

Sexual behaviors are also a risk factor that contributes to the likelihood of a urinary tract infection. Some of the things relating to sexual intercourse that could result in an increased risk of UTI include the use of contraception, urination habits before and after sex, the frequency of sexual activity, and the number of sexual partners.

Pregnancy Can Increase the Risk of a UTI

Pregnancy can also increase the risk of developing a urinary tract infection. Changes in the urinary tract during pregnancy can be one of the predisposing factors for urinary tract infections. UTIs in pregnant women are often caused by asymptomatic bacteriuria, which is when a urine analysis shows the presence of bacterial species in the urinary tract without any symptoms. If it’s not detected, around a quarter of cases lead to urinary tract infections.

Previous UTIs Are a Risk Factor

If you have had a UTI before, you may be more likely to develop a urinary tract infection again.

Urinary Tract Structural Problems

If there is an issue with the urinary tract, such as an enlarged prostate in men, there may be an increased risk of developing a urinary tract infection.

Who Is at Risk for Recurrent UTIs?

Some people find that they experience frequent UTIs. There are several factors that can make this more likely. If you have a family history of UTIs or other urinary tract problems, this could increase your risk for recurrent urinary tract infections. 

If you have your first UTI under the age of 15, this could also mean that you are more likely to develop lower urinary tract infections. 

Frequent sexual intercourse can also be one of the most important risk factors for urinary tract infections. When having sex, bacteria can find their way into the urethra, and this can lead to recurrent UTI problems if the problem isn’t managed.

What Can You Do to Prevent a UTI?

Although you can’t do anything to avoid ever getting a UTI, there are some things you can do to control some of the risk factors. If you want to prevent UTI problems, you can take some of the following steps:

  • Wipe from front to back when going to the toilet to maintain good hygiene and prevent bacteria from traveling
  • Keep the genital area clean and dry
  • Stay hydrated so that you pee regularly
  • Pee after sexual activity
  • Wash around the vagina and vulva before and after sex

Practicing good hygiene is the main way you can try to control and prevent UTIs. This helps to prevent bacteria from entering the urinary tract. Drinking lots of water might also help, although the evidence is less clear on what role hydrating plays in UTI risk.

When to See a Doctor?

If you suspect that you have a UTI, it’s important to see a doctor for treatment. Although some UTIs can clear up on their own, they are usually treated with a course of antibiotics. If you have a UTI, you might experience symptoms such as pain or burning when you pee, needing to pee more often, cloudy pee with a bad odor, or pain in your abdomen, among other symptoms. 

However, these symptoms can also be caused by other problems, so it’s important to talk to a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. The doctor will discuss your symptoms and suggest the best course of treatment, as well as offer advice on preventing further infection.

How Can DrHouse Help You?

If you’re experiencing symptoms of a UTI, the DrHouse app can help you get the care and treatment you need.

With our app, you can connect with an online doctor 24/7 who can help you manage your symptoms and get the treatment you need. Our clinicians can also offer advice on how to prevent UTIs in the future and help you understand what might be causing your recurrent infections.

Key Takeaways

  • Urinary tract infections are associated with a range of risk factors
  • Women are more likely to get UTIs and they are also common among elderly people
  • Recurrent UTIs may be caused by genetic factors and lifestyle factors
  • Maintaining good hygiene is important for preventing UTIs
  • Ensuring hygiene around sexual activity is especially important to prevent recurrent urinary tract infection
  • See a doctor if you have the symptoms of a urinary tract infection for the correct diagnosis and treatment

Sources:

  • Urinary Tract Infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/uti.html 
  • Delia Scholes, Thomas M. Hooton, Pacita L. Roberts, Ann E. Stapleton, Kalpana Gupta, Walter E. Stamm, Risk Factors for Recurrent Urinary Tract Infection in Young Women, The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Volume 182, Issue 4, October 2000, Pages 1177–1182, https://doi.org/10.1086/315827
  • Thomas M. Hooton, M.D., Delia Scholes, Ph.D., James P. Hughes, Ph.D., Carol Winter, A.R.N.P., Pacita L. Roberts, M.S., Ann E. Stapleton, M.D., Andy Stergachis, Ph.D., and Walter E. Stamm, M.D. A Prospective Study of Risk Factors for Symptomatic Urinary Tract Infection in Young Women. N Engl J Med 1996; 335:468-474 DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.1056/NEJM199608153350703 
  • Caretto M, Giannini A, Russo E, Simoncini T. Preventing urinary tract infections after menopause without antibiotics. Maturitas. 2017 May;99:43-46. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.02.004.  
  • Mayne, S., Bowden, A., Sundvall, PD. et al. The scientific evidence for a potential link between confusion and urinary tract infection in the elderly is still confusing – a systematic literature review. BMC Geriatr 19, 32 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-019-1049-7
  • Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) in Males. Medscape. Available from: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/231574-overview 
  • Harrington RD, Hooton TM. Urinary tract infection risk factors and gender. The Journal of Gender-specific Medicine : JGSM : the Official Journal of the Partnership for Women’s Health at Columbia. 2000 Nov-Dec;3(8):27-34. PMID: 11253265.
  • Al-Badr A, Al-Shaikh G. Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Management in Women: A review. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2013;13(3):359-367. doi:https://www.doi.org/10.12816/0003256 

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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