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March 11, 2022 | Kidney Health

What are UTIs and Why Do Women Get Them More Often?

Woman sitting in bed with pain in her stomach

Did you know that more than half of women will have a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point in their life?1

While anybody can experience a UTI, this type of infection is far more common in women than men. Luckily, there are many ways to prevent and treat this common infection.

What is a urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria get into the urinary system and multiply. The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.2 When caught early, a UTI can be treated quickly with antibiotics and minimal severe symptoms. However, the longer a UTI is left untreated, the chance for the infection to continue to spread to other parts of the urinary tract, such as kidneys, increases and can cause more problems.

What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?

The most common symptoms of a urinary tract infection are2:

  • An urgent need to pee, but with only a few drops of urine to pass
  • A burning feeling during urination
  • Pain, pressure or aching feeling in the lower abdomen
  • Cloudy or blood-tinged urine
  • Strong odor to the urine

If the UTI has spread to the kidneys you may experience:

  • Pain in the lower back
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting

While UTIs are a top-of-mind topic with women who are sexually active, it’s an infection that can affect women at any stage of life. When it comes to older women, the symptoms of a UTI may appear differently3:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Agitation
  • Poor motor skills
  • Dizziness
  • Falling

Why the difference in symptoms in older women? As you age, it’s natural for the immune system to weaken. Additionally, if women are living in settings such as assisted living or a nursing home, proper hygiene may decrease which can then lead to more bacteria.

How does a woman get a urinary tract infection?

Getting a urinary tract infection comes down to getting bacteria in the urinary tract. And that’s where anatomy plays a contributing factor to why more women than men get UTIs. Women have a shorter urethra than men, which makes it easier for bacteria to get into the bladder. Additionally, the urethra opening is positioned closer to both the vagina and anus making it more possible for bacteria to get in1.

There are a number of other things that make women more prone to UTIs. If you fall into the categories below, you may be more prone to developing UTIs1:

  • Are sexually active
  • Are pregnant
  • Have gone through menopause
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a condition, like kidney stones, which can block the flow of urine
  • Have or recently have had a catheter inserted

How to prevent urinary tract infection

The good news: there are many steps that you can take to help prevent getting a UTI. However, it’s important to note that sometimes no matter how hard you try to prevent one, you may still end up with an infection at some point1.

  • Go to the bathroom when you need to. Between busy meetings, juggling a mile-long to-do list, and just life, a quick bathroom break can sometimes be hard to fit in. But when possible, if you need to go to the bathroom, go when you need to instead of holding it. It’s recommended to not go more than 3-4 hours without urinating.
  • Urinate before and after sex.
  • Always wipe from front to back after using the restroom.
  • Drink six to eight glasses of water per day.
  • Stay away from feminine hygiene sprays, products, and douching.
  • Wear cotton underwear.
  • Change out of sweaty workout clothes or wet bathing suits as quickly as possible.

Simply put: staying on top of personal hygiene plays a big role in reducing your risk for a UTI.

Do you think you may have a urinary tract infection?

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, you’ll want to check in with your healthcare provider. You’ll provide a urine sample that gets tested to understand what’s going on. While providing a urine sample when it already hurts to pee doesn’t sound pleasant, using Scarlet® can make the process a little less painful since your urine collection can happen at your home.

Sources

  1. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/urinary-tract-infections#references
  2. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/uti
  3. https://www.seniorliving.org/health/uti/

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