A urinary track infection (UTI) is just one of many things that makes having a vagina so annoying at times. Although certain key habits (like wiping front to back and peeing after sex) are super important, there are actually a lot of little-known causes of a UTI to be aware of. So if you're looking to avoid ever getting that burning sensation again, there are some things doctors say you should know.
Dr. Rachel Gelman, DPT, PT tells Bustle that, "true UTIs are when bacteria enter the urinary tract and lead to symptoms like urinary urgency, frequency and burning with urination." According to the Mayo Clinic, UTI symptoms can range from painful urination to nausea and vomiting, and, if untreated, can lead to serious complications like permanent kidney damage or sepsis, a complication that can result from an infection and potentially lead to organ failure. Luckily, doctors have got your back (and your front). "If someone suspects they have a UTI, they should contact their medical provider because it should be treated, usually with antibiotics," Dr. Gelman says.
Even if you do end up with a UTI, you shouldn't feel ashamed. No one wants to think about having E. Coli up there, but unfortunately, it's something that can happen. A good first step is to get to know the risk factors, and understand how things are really working with your urinary tract. Here are the 9 surprising things that put you at risk for a UTI.
When it comes to preventing UTIs, hydration is key. "Dehydration can also cause people to get UTIs," Dr. Sheila Loanzon, MD tells Bustle. Drinking up then "flushing out the urinary system is important to rid the body of toxins," she says. This happens because "when there is minimal urination or drinking of water (not just fluids but actual water)" bacteria builds up, Dr. Loanzon says. Her tips? Drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day and peeing at regular intervals can help.
It's pretty unfair that one bathroom problem can cause another, but it's true. Dr. Shilpi Agarwal, author and MD, tells Bustle that chronic constipation can also be a UTI culprit. "When we are constipated, bacteria has a longer time to breed, and it is harder to empty the bladder completely, so you are more prone to UTIs," she says. But if you're feeling constipated no need to worry — certain foods like broccoli and chia seeds can be a major help in keeping you regular.
Changing body? Your risk factors for UTIs might change too. "Pregnancy can cause UTIs," Loanzon says, "because the normal structural and physiologic changes of the kidneys and urinary tract can cause bacteria to be introduced into the renal system." While it may be difficult to avoid UTIs completely, staying hydrated and sticking to cotton underwear may reduce your risk.
These days the IUD and condoms are the talk of the town, but if you're into some less-buzzy birth control methods, you should know that they might put you at risk for UTIs. "Certain types of birth control methods – specifically, diaphragms and spermicides increase the chances of getting a UTI," Hill says. Plus, neither diaphragms nor spermicides prevent STIs, so make sure you have a plan with your healthcare provider about which birth control method is best for you.
6Holding In Your Pee
Although life can be busy, and a bathroom isn't always close by, try not to hold in your pee. "Holding in your pee can also be a contributing factor [for UTIs] because you’re holding in bacteria that can multiply," Hill says. To prevent this, "ensure you never hold your bladder for more than 6 hours."
This can be particularly risky if you're taking antihistamines for allergies or cold symptoms, because these drugs make "your body reduce fluid release and makes you pee less," Agarwal says. "Because of this, you can also develop UTIs more easily."
So, whether you're just fussy about public bathrooms or dealing with a cold, you have to make sure you pee enough. Gelman once again recommends that you try preventative measures like staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water.
Unfortunately, sex when you have a vagina is a plain-old risk factor for UTIs. "The rubbing near the opening of the urethra and the closeness of bacteria can be problematic," Clinical Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, MD tells Bustle.
You don't need to immediately freak out, though. "That doesn't mean one should give up sex but there is an association, and there are things to do," Minkin says.
For those who have a vagina, it's important to always urinate after sex, Gelman says. Pillow talk can wait.
Another risk factor for UTIs is menopause. This happens "particularly for a postmenopausal woman who is suffering from vaginal dryness, that can set the scene for nastier bacteria to take up residence in her vagina, and lead to more urinary tract infections," says Minkin.
Also, "as women become menopausal there can be an increase in UTIs due to the lack of estrogen present in the vaginal tissue," Loanzon says. Just another reason to understand your body and keep an eye on any changes.
If your UTIs are coming along with a variety of other symptoms like high cholesterol and numbness or tingling, you might be experiencing warning signs of something bigger. UTIs can indicate undiagnosed diabetes because "blood sugar irregularities can make you more susceptible to infections, particularly urine infections," Agarwal says. "If you are consuming tons of sugar, or have symptoms of diabetes (increased thirst, increased urination, increased hunger)," you are more susceptible to UTIs." If you are noticing these symptoms, speaking with your doctor can help you uncover the cause, as well as how to treat it.
Good old go-to's like always wiping front to back after using the bathroom can help us, Gelman says. But if you do believe you have a UTI, talking with your doctor can help treat the infection, and help you to feel like yourself again.