A urinary tract infection, or UTI, can be uncomfortable to downright painful. And it often requires a trip to urgent care plus a prescription for antibiotics. If you experience recurrent UTIs, you know first-hand how they can affect your quality of life.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk. Here’s more about why recurrent UTIs happen, how to treat them, and ways to reduce the chances of having another one.
Causes and Symptoms of a UTI
Many people refer to a UTI as a bladder infection, but you can get an infection anywhere along your urinary tract. That includes your:
- Bladder — the sac that holds your urine.
- Urethra — the tube that carries urine out of your body from your bladder.
- Ureters — 2 tubes that send urine from your kidneys to your bladder.
- Kidneys — the organs that filter your blood and remove wastes that become urine.
Most of the time, a UTI affects your bladder. It happens when bacteria enter your urethra and settle in your bladder. Once bacteria start to grow, they cause symptoms like:
- Pain or burning when you urinate.
- Urine that’s cloudy, pink from blood, or has an odor.
- Feeling like you have to urinate frequently, even though your bladder is empty.
- Pressure or cramping in your lower abdomen.
A kidney infection is a less common UTI, but it’s more serious. With a kidney infection, your symptoms might include:
- A fever.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Pain in the lower part of your back or the side of your back.
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Risk Factors for Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections
Anyone can get a UTI, but they’re more common in women because of the female anatomy. A woman’s urethra is close to the rectum, where bacteria live, plus it’s shorter than a man’s urethra. That means if bacteria from your feces get into the urethra, they have less distance to travel to infect the bladder.
As many as 60% of women will experience a UTI in their lifetime. About 1 in 4 women are likely to have recurrent UTIs. Recurrent means more than 2 UTIs in the past 6 months or more than 3 in the previous year.
You’re more likely to have recurrent UTIs if you:
- Are sexually active. Intercourse makes it more likely that feces can get into your urinary tract.
- Have fewer friendly bacteria in your vagina from using a spermicide for birth control or being in menopause. Beneficial bacteria help control harmful bacteria and keep them out of your urinary tract.
- Are older. The risk increases in middle age and after menopause.
- Are unable to empty your bladder completely, as with nerve damage around the bladder.
- Have structural problems with your urinary tract.
- Have a health condition that compromises your immune system, like diabetes.
Treating and Preventing Recurrent UTIs
If you have symptoms, make sure you visit your doctor. They’ll review your symptoms and check for bacteria in your urine. If necessary, they can also prescribe an antibiotic to treat your UTI.
A UTI usually clears up quickly as long as you follow your doctor’s instructions and take your antibiotic as directed. But if you don’t take all of your antibiotics, you run the risk of your infection coming back.
Your doctor might also recommend taking a low-dose antibiotic for recurrent UTIs. However, there’s a chance the bacteria will become resistant to the antibiotic over time. That’s why it’s vital to discuss the pros and cons of long-term antibiotic use with your healthcare provider.
Other strategies that may help reduce your risk of recurrent UTIs include:
- Drinking at least 8 glasses of water each day to help flush bacteria out of your urinary tract. Cranberry juice might also help, but the jury’s still out about its effectiveness in preventing recurrent UTIs.
- Urinate right after sexual activity to flush away bacteria.
- Consider switching birth control methods if your doctor thinks a spermicide is contributing to your recurrent UTIs.
- After using to the toilet, women should wipe from front to back.
- You can also talk to your doctor about using estrogen or probiotics that go into your vagina. These may help boost levels of friendly bacteria and protect you from harmful bacteria.
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The UPMC Department of Urology offers a wide variety of specialized care for diseases of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. We have a multifaceted team of physicians and researchers working together to provide the best care to both children and adults. Our team is nationally renowned for expertise in highly specialized technologies and minimally invasive surgical techniques. U.S. News & World Report ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside among the best hospitals in the country for urological care.