11 Surprising Habits That Experts Say Can Increase Your Risk Of Getting A UTI

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While a urinary tract infection (UTI) can crop up all on its own, or come about due to a related health problem, there are a few habits that can cause UTIs. Usually, these include things that accidentally introduce bacteria into the urethra. But by knowing what to avoid you can lower your risk — and hopefully keep infections away.

"In the simplest terms, a UTI can occur when bacteria enter the urethra and travel to the bladder or kidneys," S. Adam Ramin, MD, urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists, tells Bustle. The infection can lead to a whole host of agonizing symptoms, such as pain and pressure in your lower abdomen, a frequent and intense urge to urinate, pain and burning during urination, and even shakiness, fever, and chills.

"Sometimes, one of the early signs of an impending UTI is a distinctly unusual smell or cloudy appearance of your urine," Dr. Ramin says. So if you're prone to UTIs, be on the lookout for these changes. "These signs warrant a trip to your doctor for evaluation," he says. "If you can catch it early, there’s a better chance of treating it before more unpleasant symptoms arise." You can also lower your risk of getting a UTI in the first place, experts say, by avoiding the habits below.

1. Holding In Your Pee

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While you may occasionally find yourself in a situation where you need to hold your pee — like when you're stuck in traffic — it's not a good idea to do so on a regular basis.

"Holding your urine for an extended period of time actually weakens the bladder muscles, and the longer the urine stays in your bladder the more your body is exposed to potentially harmful bacteria, which can hand you an unwanted UTI or bladder infection," Dr. Ramin says.

You won't, for example, want to spend hours at work without taking a moment to pee. Instead, "make it a habit to schedule yourself a quick break every two to three hours to use the restroom before the urge becomes severe," Dr. Ramin says.

2. Rushing While You Pee

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It's not always possible to pee under ideal circumstances. Sometimes you'll be rushed and may need to cut the whole process short, in order to get on with your day. But try not to turn this into a habit.

As Dr. Ramin says, "Be sure to 'go' as soon as you feel the urge and make a conscious effort to empty the bladder every time you urinate." In other words, pee when you need to and try not to cut yourself off mid-stream.

"Both actions," he says, "can increase the chances of expelling UTI-causing germs from your body, thereby further reducing your risk of developing an infection.”

3. Wearing Sweaty Workout Leggings

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"Moisture is a great environment for yeast and bacteria to grow," Dr. Yvonne Bohn, OB/GYN and chief medical correspondent for Cystex, tells Bustle, which is why you may want to change out of your sweaty leggings as soon as you're done working out, instead of keeping them on all day.

"With excess bacteria there is a higher chance that the bacteria can travel into the urethra and potentially cause a UTI to develop," Dr. Bohn says. "Excess yeast and bacteria in the vaginal area can also cause vaginal infections." And all of that is way more likely to happen when sweaty material is close to your skin.

4. Not Drinking Enough Liquids

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"Not drinking enough water may increase your chances of a UTI because you are likely urinating less frequently," Dr. Bohn says. So make sure you're sipping enough liquid throughout the day to keep your pee clear with a slight tinge of yellow, which is a sign you're hydrated.

"Urinating can push the bad bacteria that are adherent to the urethra out of the urinary tract and prevent them from entering the bladder," Dr. Bohn says, "which, if left there, can lead to a UTI."

5. Forgetting To Pee After Sex

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"During sex, bacteria is moved throughout the genital area and into the urethra," Dr. Bohn says. "Just like with dehydration, if the bacteria stays in the urethra it can travel to the bladder, multiply, and cause a UTI."

That's why you'll want to pop into the bathroom to pee after sex, instead of immediately sleeping, lying around, or going about your day. As Dr. Bohn says, "Urinating pushes the bacteria out of the urethra," and that lowers your risk of getting a UTI.

6. Wearing Non-Breathable Underwear

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Wearing non-breathable underwear, of the synthetic material variety, can also increase your risk of developing a UTI since they don't allow for the flow of air, and thus trap moisture and bacteria against your skin.

So, from now on, try to wear underwear with a cotton crotch, which will prevent the buildup of sweat and bacteria, Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN tells Bustle. If you're prone to UTIs, making this simple can change can be a big help.

7. Wiping Back To Front

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Take a second to think about your wiping habits after using the bathroom. Do you wipe front to back? Or do you drag the toilet paper from the back area, near your butt, up to the front?

If the latter sounds more familiar, it may be time to make a change. As Dr. Ross says, "Always remember to wipe 'front to back' to avoid bringing unwanted bacteria from the anus to the vaginal area."

It may take a while to break the habit, Dr. Bohn says, once you realize you've been doing it wrong. But it is very much worth it.

8. Using Scented Period Products

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Whether we're talking pads, tampons, or other period-related products, using anything with a scent isn't always the best idea. As Dr. Ross says, these products often contain perfumes and other chemicals that can irritate the vaginal area, and potentially lead to a UTI. So you'll want to stick to natural ones that don't come with a scent. You should also feel free to ask your doctor for their suggestions on which products are best to use if you get frequent UTIs.

9. Washing With Harsh Soaps

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While it may be tempting to wash your nether regions with nice-smelling soaps, it's much safer to stick to natural and unscented products, once again. "Avoid bubble baths and using harsh soaps or fragrances in the vaginal area," urologist Sophie G. Fletcher, MD, tells Bustle. "Those products cause dryness and disrupt the pH of the vagina, allowing 'bad' bacteria to grow there."

10. Douching

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And while you're at it, it's definitely time to break a douching habit, should you happen to have one. As Dr. Ross says, douching can also disrupt the normal pH of the vagina and increase your risk of getting UTIs. Also, the vagina is self-cleaning, so it's not necessary to douche.

11. Overusing Antibiotics

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It's important not to jump to conclusions, should you think you have a UTI, and immediately start taking antibiotics. And that's because, as Dr. Fletcher says, "frequent use of antibiotics causes bacterial resistance, and kills off the 'good' bacteria in the body that helps prevent UTIs."

You can even make yourself more susceptible to infections if you take antibiotics when they aren't necessary, so be sure to check with your doctor first or get a urine test to confirm there's a UTI present, Dr. Fletcher says. Antibiotics might be necessary, but can definitely do more harm than good if you overuse them.

Prevention is key, Dr. Fletcher says, when it comes to lowering your risk of infection. And you can do that by keeping these habits in mind, when taking care of your health.