Why UTIs affect women more than men

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Why UTIs affect women more than men

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are much more common in women than men.  Over 50% of women will have at least one UTI in her lifetime with up to 30% to 40% of UTIs recurring within 6 months after the initial episode.

A urinary tract infection can occur in any part of the urinary tract beginning with the kidneys.  The bean-shaped kidneys filter waste products the body doesn’t need from the blood which creates urine.  Urine than flows through tubes called the ureters to the bladder which stores urine until it is ready to be eliminated from the body.  When the urine exits the bladder, it will flow through the urethra on out of the body as waste.

There are several reasons why women are more prone to developing a UTI which include the following:

·      Holding urine for too long.  Women have a tendency to “hold” urine until they absolutely have to go.  However, when they do this it allows bacteria to flourish instead of being flushed from the body.

·      Improper bathroom hygiene.  If a woman wipes from back to front after using the bathroom, this can lead to a UTI.  This type of motion will drag bacteria from the rectal area towards the urethra, introducing bacteria into this area of the body.  Women should always wipe from front to back which helps to ensure bacteria present in stools are wiped in the opposite direction of the urethra to reduce the risk of infection. 

·      Sexual intercourse. Engaging in sexual intercourse is another way a UTI can get started.  Most women will have bacteria in their urine after intercourse so it is strongly advisable to urinate both before and for certain after sexual intercourse to help flush out bacteria and decrease the chance of an infection.

·      Use of spermicides as birth control. Spermicides can increase the risk of a UTI.  The chemical in spermicides (condoms, foams, gels, etc.) can irritate the urethra leading to an infection. If an unlubricated condom is used this can further contribute to UTIs by bruising urethral tissue. 

·      Exposure to chemical products. Women who use certain soaps, powders, perfumes, vaginal deodorants and douching can be inadvertently putting themselves at risk of developing a UTI.

·      Family history of UTIs.  If a woman’s mother had several UTIs during her life, then she may also be predisposed to have a higher risk of contracting them.  Also having a UTI before the age of 15 will put a woman at a greater chance of future UTIs.

·      Pregnancy.  Women who are pregnant have a greater likelihood of getting a UTI.  The reason for this is that a woman’s body is undergoing several changes which her body has to adjust to the demands of a growing baby.

·      Menopause.  When women go through menopause, there is a loss of estrogen which changes the normal bacteria in the vagina increasing the risk of UTIs.  Another factor menopause can cause is a thinning of the urinary tract wall which weakens mucous membranes.  This can reduce the effectiveness of the urinary tract to be able to fight off infections.

What women can do to prevent UTIs

·      Consume 100% cranberry juice. Drinking cranberry juice is an effective means of preventing a UTI.  This juice contains a compound called proanthocyanidins that work to keep bacteria from adhering to the cells lining the bladder and urethra. It is best to buy unsweetened cranberry juice as the sugar from sweetened cranberry juice can irritate the urinary tract.

·      Always wipe from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement

·      Always urinate after having sex

·      Don’t hold in urine for long periods of time – use the restroom as soon as possible when needing to eliminate urine.

·      Taking showers rather than baths can help

·      Wear underwear with a cotton crotch – avoid fabric that traps moisture

·      Drink plenty of water each day to help flush out bacteria