If you’re familiar with the relentless need to urinate and the excruciating burning feeling when you do, then you’re painfully aware of what a urinary tract infection (UTI) is. UTIs are responsible for close to 10 million health care visits each year and are caused by bacteria getting into the urinary system. But how does bacteria get there in the first place?
Many people are quick to jump on the “too much sex” or “not enough water” bandwagons, and although these are valid UTI causes, there are also many unexpected ones that may not have shown up in your Google search. So if you’re prone to UTIs or just want to reduce the chances of ever getting one, keep reading.
1. Tight Clothing
You might want to toss out your skinny jeans and constricting workout pants if you suffer from chronic UTIs. What you wear can play a big part in your urinary tract health, and baggy is best if you feel a bout of cystitis (aka inflammation of the bladder) coming on. “A lot of people are surprised, but tight clothing like jeans and thongs can often cause UTIs,” says Emma Soos, a urology nurse and managing director at The Women’s Health Clinic, a leading chain of private clinics in the UK specializing in women's health and wellbeing. But how and why? Restrictive underwear, leggings, shorts and pants don’t allow your vagina any airflow, and “bacteria can breed easily in these sorts of hot and sweaty environments,” Soos explains.
Going through menopause can also raise the chances of you contracting a UTI. “When you go through menopause, your estrogen levels lower and cause the urethral tissue to become thinned, which increases the risk of a UTI,” explains Audrey M. Moruzzi, M.D., gynecologist at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.
In addition, women can continue to suffer after menopause because their vaginas become dry, and that can set the scene for some more ugly bacteria. If you do become ill from a UTI, Dr. Moruzzi suggests seeking help immediately: “If you have a fever, flank pain, chills or feel generally unwell, you should be treated in an urgent care or emergency room since the urinary tract infection might have progressed to a kidney infection.”
3. Your Detergent
Switching detergents can wreak havoc on your skin, and it can also disrupt your urinary system. That’s right, UTIs can be caused by allergies to what you are using to clean your favorite underwear. “For some people it’s simply a reaction to what they wash their clothes in,” says Soos. “Even just the detergent or fabric softener can have an ill effect.” This is because an allergy to a product can cause a growth of microorganisms, which can result in a UTI. If you are prone to infection, try switching out your detergent for an unscented, chemical-free version.
4. Sexual Activity
There is a reason cystitis is often referred to as “the honeymoon disease.” Having a lot of sex in a short amount of time heightens your chances of contracting a UTI. According to Dr. Moruzzi, that's because the most common cause of a UTI is E.Coli. “E. coli is normal and healthy in the colon, but it causes infection in the bladder," she explains. "Intercourse can be a common trigger for a UTI since bacteria from the rectum is pulled close to the urethra.” So how can we reduce the risk of a UTI without stopping the romance entirely? “Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it is important to stay hydrated and [urinate] after intercourse to flush bacteria from the urethra,” says Dr. Moruzzi.
Are you actively trying to prevent unintended pregnancy and protect against STIs? Good for you. The only problem: Condoms, IUDs and diaphragms can put you at risk of UTIs. “Any foreign body that is placed near the urethra, such as a condom, can up the chances of contracting a urinary tract infection,” says Soos. “And, of course, for women, with removable contraception there is a hygiene risk that could lead to an infection,” she adds.
What's more, as Dr. Moruzzi explains, when it comes to condoms, it’s not just allergies to latex that people have issues with. Spermicide and spermicide-coated condoms can cause UTIs because they promote E. coli growth. While we are certainly not telling you to abstain from sex, if you feel like you're developing a UTI or you are prone to them, it might be worth speaking with your gynecologist or a health care professional at your local Planned Parenthood about the contraception that's right for you. One study states that barrier methods of contraception (including condoms, sponges and diaphragms) are more likely to cause UTI's.
6. Avoiding the Bathroom
With the hectic chores of work, commuting and life in general, finding time to go to the bathroom might prove particularly difficult — but prolonging your toilet break can make things a whole lot worse. Even if it appears to be saving time, keeping stagnant fluid in your bladder can cause long-term problems. “For those that often hold their urine or bowel movements for large periods of time, they are more susceptible to UTIs, as there’s simply no release for a buildup of bacteria,” says Soos. “What normally would be released instead gets washed up toward the bladder. The longer urine sits in the bladder, the greater the risk of bacteria buildup.” There’s truly no time to pee like the present.
Read more: 7 Cool Facts About Poop That Will Amaze You
Cleaning up down there can actually create a much bigger mess than you began with. Douching sends a stream of water — which is sometimes mixed with antiseptics — into your vagina to flush out unpleasant, smelly bacteria. But this process also washes out the good bacteria and shakes up your vagina’s natural balance.
“Douching and synthetic vaginal products decrease the healthy bacteria of the vagina that acts as a normal barrier for E. coli,” explains Dr. Moruzzi. Because the vagina is actually self-cleaning, you don’t need to mess with it internally. Instead, stay fresh by keeping your cleaning regimen to the outside of your body.
Expecting a baby is exciting, but it does increase the risk of you contracting a urinary tract infection. When you’re carrying a baby in your belly, your uterus expands and puts pressure on your bladder. It’s therefore more difficult to empty your bladder completely when you go to the bathroom, which can cause bacteria to build up. Hormone changes can also make it easier for bacteria to travel up the urinary tract and cause an infection. If you’re pregnant and concerned you have a UTI, you should seek advice from a doctor. Left untreated, a UTI can have serious implications for both mother and baby.
Read more: 12 Exercises to Stay Fit During Pregnancy
If you suffer from Type 2 diabetes, you are at a greater risk of getting a UTI. According to diabetesselfmanagement.com, there are a number of reasons that people with poorly controlled diabetes are prone to UTIs. Some people with diabetes have problems completely emptying their bladders, meaning the bacteria sits there breeding. Additionally, you’re more likely to have bad circulation if you have diabetes, which means your white blood cells can’t travel around the body easily to fight off infection. Furthermore, fungus grows well in the presence of sugar, so if you have high blood glucose levels, it can up your chances of contracting a fungal urinary tract infection.
Read more: Early Signs and Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
10. Enlarged Prostate Gland
UTI's most commonly effect women, but that doesn't mean men don't get them too. "Females are more likely than males to get a UTI simply because the risk of bacteria becoming introduced to the region is much higher," says Soos. According to Harvard Health Publishing, while it is unusual for young men to contract a urinary tract infection, as males get older the prostate gland (a gland located near the bottom of the bladder) can increase in size and in turn block the flow of urine from the bladder, which can eventually lead to a UTI. Additionally, cystitis is more common in men who who are not circumcised and who practice anal intercourse.
Read more: 10 Health Issues Men Need to Be Aware Of
11. Your Partner
Although it’s incredibly uncommon, there are some people who are allergic to their partner’s sperm (a condition known as human seminal plasma hypersensitivity), and this can cause burning, itching and swelling where you really don’t want it to. While this allergy isn’t actually a cause of a urinary tract infection, it can easily be confused for one. “In rare cases, a reaction can be caused by a partner,” says Soos. So if you keep experiencing uncomfortable side effects soon after having unprotected sex, such as the ones listen above, it might be worth seeking professional advice.
Read more: 10 Scary Facts About Men’s Sperm Count
What Do YOU Think?
Do you suffer terribly from UTIs? Have you tried everything to stop the chronic infections, but nothing seems to work? Let us know your experience with UTIs in the comments.