Urinary tract infections (UTIs) account for 25% of all clinical bacterial infections in women. And around 50%-60% of women are bound to experience at least one UTI in their lifetime. It can be valuable to be aware of urinary tract infections' causes and preventive steps. Let's take a look at why women are more likely to get these infections.
How do you get a UTI?
UTIs form when unwanted microbes enter the urinary tract and cause an infection. E. coli bacteria—which live in the bowel—cause most UTIs. Men and women can both experience this infection. However, certain factors make UTIs over 10 times more common in women.
How does a woman get a urinary tract infection?
Anatomy is a big player in why UTIs occur more frequently in women than men. A female urethra is about six inches shorter than a male's urethra, allowing bacteria to have better access to a woman's bladder. The urethral opening is also closer to sources of bacteria, like the anus and the vagina. Sexual activity often results in moving bacteria around near the urethral opening.
The following factors can encourage unwanted bacterial growth:
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Purposefully holding in urine for extended periods
- Conditions that block the flow of urine
- Diabetes and other conditions that negatively impact the immune system
- Spinal cord injuries or other nerve damage that makes the bladder difficult to empty
- Hormonal changes in pregnant women that make it easier for bacteria to spread
What are the symptoms of a UTI in women?
A UTI could present itself in one or many different ways. Symptoms may also vary based on the infection's primary location—kidney, bladder, urethra, or ureters. Common symptoms of urinary tract infections include:
- Pain or burning during urination
- Fever, tiredness, or shakiness
- An urge to urinate frequently
- Pressure in your lower belly
- Urine that looks cloudy or reddish
- Pain in your back or sides below the ribs
How long does a urinary tract infection last?
Your body can get rid of the bacteria on its own, but treatment options like antibiotics can help speed up the process, with symptoms often going away within 24 to 48 hours. However, some people have UTIs that do not go away with treatment or keep coming back, also known as chronic UTIs. If this is the case, you will need to take stronger medication for a longer period to get rid of the infection.
How to prevent a UTI
You cannot always avoid a urinary tract infection. Here are five steps to prevent an infection from setting in.
- Drink plenty of fluids. The more you drink, the more you have to pee. This allows for your urinary tract to be emptied of bacteria more frequently.
- Avoid holding your pee. Try not to wait more than three or four hours to pee. This is especially important if you're pregnant since you're already more at risk for a UTI.
- Take probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that promote good gut bacteria. This can help promote the growth of good bacteria in the urinary tract. You can take probiotics either through a supplement or foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, or tempeh.
- Avoid scented products. The vagina is already filled with different microbes, and scented feminine products can throw off the pH balance of the area.
- Consume cranberries. A known home remedy for preventing UTIs, cranberries have compounds called proanthocyanidins that may prevent bacteria from sticking around the urinary tract.
If you experience any symptoms of a UTI, schedule an appointment with a Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group primary care physician to get the antibiotics needed for treatment. A St. Luke's Health OBGYN can also help you, especially if you're pregnant.