Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur more frequently in women because they have a shorter urethra than men, making it easier for bacteria from the anus to travel to the urethra. Aside from the female anatomy, sexual activity can also introduce bacteria into a woman’s urinary tract.
Women with the following conditions are at a higher risk of a UTI:
Factors that may promote bacterial growth in women include:
- Dehydration, which causes urine to be concentrated and helps bacteria thrive
- Holding in urine for a long period of time
- Nerve damage that makes regular and complete bladder emptying difficult
- Conditions that obstruct urine flow, such as a tumor, kidney stone
- Diabetes and other conditions that weaken the immune system to fight off infection
- Catheter use (tubes placed in the urethra and bladder to drain urine)
- Hormonal changes, which can encourage bacteria to spread
- Use of certain birth control methods such as a diaphragm and spermicidal agents
- Urinary surgery or an examination of the urinary tract involving medical instruments
- Sexual activity, which can cause bacteria to move from the vagina to the urethra
What are the complications of untreated UTIs in women?
- Recurrent UTIs, especially in women who experience 2 or more UTIs in 6 months or 4 or more UTIs within a year
- Pyelonephritis (permanent kidney damage from an acute or chronic kidney infection)
- Preterm delivery or low-birth-weight infant
- Sepsis (a potentially life-threatening complication), especially if the infection spreads from the urinary tract to the kidneys
How can women prevent the risk of UTIs?
Women can reduce their risk of UTIs by following these preventative measures:
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day
- Do not hold in your urine
- Take showers instead of baths
- Minimize the use of vaginal sprays, powders, or douching to avoid irritation
- Wear loose-fitting clothing
- Change birth control methods if it is contributing to bacterial growth in the urethra
- Wipe from front to back
- Empty your bladder after having sex
- Use appropriate lubrication during sex
- Clean the anus and genitals daily to prevent the transmission of bacteria
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