By Akanksha Singh
It is a truth universally acknowledged that urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen.
Jane Austen said that.
Okay, no, she didn’t. But more than half of all people with vaginas will have at least one UTI in their lifetime, with UTIs making up close to 25% of all infections they get. What’s more is that an estimated 25% of people with acute UTIs experience another within six months of the first infection.
Which, as you may have guessed, or may know from experience yourself, can be a lot.
UTI is *really* a colloquial catch-all for a range of infections
UTI is a generalized term to refer to bacterial or fungal growth in the genitourinary tract. “Many people refer to UTI as a cystitis or bladder infection,” says Dr. Rice, adding, “often patients will confuse irritative voiding symptoms with infections.”
So always, always see a health professional instead of Googling the daylights out of your symptoms.
And vaginas are especially prone to UTIs
There are many sources of infection, but people with vaginas are more prone to infections. “Why?” You ask? It’s because in women, the urethra is fairly short and straight. This makes it easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder. “Often, bacteria can be introduced into the urethral area and then travel in a retrograde fashion to the bladder,” says Dr. Rice.
UTI symptoms largely depend on what parts of the urinary tract are infected. Your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra all make up your urinary tract. Most UTIs occur in the lower tract, impacting your urethra and bladder. That said, when they occur, upper tract UTIs involving your ureters and kidneys are more severe. Typically, burning while peeing, needing to pee a lot, and pelvic pain are common symptoms.
Common causes for UTIs
Since UTIs are caused by bacteria, there are a number of things that make you more susceptible to infection, typically as a result of reduced bladder emptying or irritating your urinary tract.
Some causes include:
- Sexual intercourse
- Poop traveling to your vagina or urethra
- Chemical irritants in the vagina (spermicides, douching products)
- Hormonal changes
- Previous UTIs
So, yup, everything from sex to douching can cause UTIs. Dr. Rice also stresses that transposition of fecal matter and hormone changes make you more susceptible to UTIs. PSA: wipe front to back, people!
If you’re careful hygiene-wise, and you’re certain hormones aren’t responsible for your UTIs, chances are your previous UTIs are causing recurrence.
UTIs are recurrent when they happen more than 3 times in a 6 month period
Basically, if your urine culture tests negative for a UTI after treatment and you develop another shortly after, we’re talking recurring UTIs — have a chat with your doctor to determine the best next course of action.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the leading causes of recurrence
“Antibiotic resistance organisms are now found in the community,” says Dr. Rice, “meaning any bacterial infection may have antibiotic resistance from the time you contract the bacteria.”
Urine cultures help let you know what antibiotic your body’s sensitive to. It’s also ridiculously important to actually complete the full course of antibiotics prescribed by your physician, and to know what medication or antibiotics you’ve taken in the past to help with future treatment.
But, just so ya know: there are no home remedies for curing a UTI
Cranberry juice does not treat UTIs and there are zero home remedies for treatment (tons of prevention ones though; read on). None. Zip. Zilch. Head straight to your doctor for an antibiotic treatment plan suitable to you.
Preventing UTIs is easy (kinda), so you don’t have to worry about recurrence to begin with
Depending on what’s causing your UTI(s), prevention is pretty straightforward. Be sure to:
- Pee after sex
- Stay hydrated
- Pee whenever you have to, and make sure you ‘go’ fully
- Maintain vaginal health with topical hormones and oral supplements as directed by your physician
- If you’re prone to recurring UTIs, keep track of your UTIs, sexual health, medication, and how often you pee to help your physician help you. The UTI tracker app lets you do that, if you’re looking for something specifically for your vag’s health.
Ever had a UTI you just couldn’t seem to shake? Have any prevention tips you swear by? Share your stories with us in the comments below.