The Special Hell of Recurrent UTIs

The Special Hell of Recurrent UTIs

woman experiencing uti pain

Most women have had the especially unpleasant experience of a urinary tract infection. For 25% to 30% of women who have suffered from a urinary tract infection, the infection returns within six months. Symptoms include:

  • Frequent urgency to urinate, yet passing very little urine when you go
  • Pain during urination
  • Cloudy, blood-tinged, or strong-smelling urine

Why Do I Keep Getting UTIs?

If you have experienced recurrent UTIs, you’re familiar with the toll they take on your body. Why are some women prone to chronic bladder infections? The latest research on recurrent UTIs indicates that the condition is unlikely to be the result of anything you have done or poor hygiene.

The infections are most often caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli). Escherichia coli is a bacterium that lives in the intestinal system. Escherichia coli is the most common organism causing urinary tract infections,  but it is not the only one. Klebsiella, Pseudomonas, Proteus, and other organisms are often found in patients with certain risk factors for complicated urinary tract infections.

UTI illustration

Anatomy and/or genetics

Women are more prone to urinary tract infections than men due to their anatomy. The urethra is shorter in women than in men. Its location near the openings of the vagina and anus allows ample opportunity for bacteria from both those areas to spread into the urethra. After bacteria has found its way into the urethra, it need only travel a short distance to the bladder and result in an infection.

In addition, some women have cells that are naturally more receptive to bacteria. This means any bacteria that finds its way into your body are less likely to be flushed out by your natural body functions. Recent studies indicate women who experience recurrent UTIs and kidney infections may have a genetic predisposition at play.

Toilet habits

To reduce the risk of any fecal matter or bacteria being spread from the anus into the urethra, it is important wipe from front to back after urinating. You also want to make sure you are clean and dry before pulling your underwear back up. Any fecal matter or bacteria can land on the underwear and be spread as you move throughout your day.

Sexual activity

Bacteria can spread easily during sexual activity. Bacteria can find its way into your urethra via your partner’s genitals, fingers, tongue, or from your vagina or anus. Urinating after sexual activity will help flush bacteria out of the urethra. Practicing good hygiene by washing your intimate area as well as your hands and fingers before and after sex is a good idea. Also, be sure to clean sex toys before and after use. It’s important to note that diaphragms, spermicides, or condoms can also increase your risk for UTI if you are prone to recurrent infections.

Other health conditions

Having diabetes increases your risk for a UTI. Autoimmune diseases, neurological diseases, and other chronic conditions such as kidney or bladder stones can leave you more prone to recurring infections that include UTIs. Also, if you have had surgery on any part of your urinary tract (urethra, bladder, ureter, kidney), scar tissue can result that may make you more vulnerable to infection.

Other factors that may make you more susceptible to infection:

  • Changing estrogen levels during menopause.
  • Problems with the urinary tract shape or function.

UTI tests

Tests to find the cause of recurrent bladder infections may include collecting a urine sample for a urine culture test. This will indicate the type of bacteria causing the infection. Your provider may also conduct a visual exam of the bladder and urethra with a lighted device (cystoscopy) or order a CT scan of your urinary tract so that treatment can be targeted around the underlying cause if at all possible. If the potential cause can’t be determined, generalized treatments often include the following:

  • A low-dose antibiotic taken for at least six months and up to two years
  • Intermittent antibiotic therapy such as taking an antibiotic after sex or starting antibiotics at the first sign of a UTI
  • Vaginal estrogen therapy for signs or symptoms related to vaginal dryness after menopause

Possible preventative steps

Some lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of urinary tract infections:

  • Drinking plenty of water or other liquids may help flush out bacteria
  • Urinating as soon as you feel the need
  • Wiping from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement
  • Taking showers instead of baths
  • Gently washing the skin around your vagina and anus daily using a mild soap and plenty of water to wash away bacteria
  • Avoiding the use of a diaphragm, condoms, or spermicides for birth control
  • Avoiding the use of deodorant sprays or scented feminine products in the genital area
  • Urinating immediately after sexual activity

Although some studies suggest that cranberry products may have infection-fighting properties to help prevent urinary tract infections, research is limited and the results of these studies vary. It is apparent, however, that cranberry does not help cure an existing urinary tract infection.

A probiotic supplement could be beneficial in preventing recurrent UTIs. A high-quality probiotic supplement taken orally helps maintain a healthy vaginal microflora and support urogenital health.

If you suffer from recurrent UTIs, talk to Dr. White about possible solutions. Dr. White’s goal is to offer her patients the highest quality female healthcare available. She prioritizes staying up-to-date on the latest technologies aimed at helping women lead better lives.



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