The human race is naturally programed to do their best to avoid pain and illness, but being imperfect, they sometimes miss the mark. When a persistent type of condition is involved, it can continue to plague someone from some of the least expected directions. A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is one such beast. Even when an individual takes every necessary precaution, they believe they can, there are still surprising risk factors for UTIs the person may not be aware of.
What is a UTI?
A urinary tract infection is exactly what it sounds like: bacteria find their way into the urinary tract, takes root, and begins to grow until there is an infection. That infection could settle into any part of the urinary tract, including the urethra, bladder, ureters, prostate (in men), and kidneys. In women, it could also affect the vagina, due to the proximity of the two organs.
In most cases, a short round of antibiotics (three to seven days) will clear up any UTI, and over the counter pain medications can ease the discomfort of symptoms until the infection is gone. If the UTI has reached the kidneys, longer courses of antibiotics that are stronger, or even intravenous antibiotics, may be required to relieve the body of the ailment.
While everyone is susceptible to a UTI, it’s not a problem for everyone. What are the risk factors for getting a UTI?
Urinary tract infections: Common risk factors
The better-known risk factors of a urinary tract infection start with women. Yes, women are far more likely to have a UTI, partly because their urethra is much shorter than a man’s. This means it’s easier for bacteria to reach deeper into the urinary tract, since it doesn’t have to travel as far. In addition, during menopause, the drop in estrogen also makes women’s urinary tracts more susceptible to infection.
In both men and women, kidney stones and other blockages can lead to infection, and men with an enlarged prostate have a higher risk of developing a UTI. Catheters and compromised immune systems are also high-risk factors. Most people recognize these, but what are some risk factors that don’t pop up readily in the mind when considering a UTI?
Surprising risk factors for UTIs
It’s intriguing to think that even science and medicine can’t always identify the explanation behind a risk factor and have to theorize, but in many cases, the reason that people are surprised by certain risk factors for UTIs is because the medical field is still looking at the logic behind them.
- Bicycling. Women who spend a lot of time on a bicycle, whether for exercise or as a means of transportation, report UTIs far more often than women who don’t ride. This may seem strange, but this is a case of the medical community theorizing and postulating. They believe that, perhaps, the pressure put on a woman’s already short urethra for the long periods of time shorten it further, while any secretion of the vagina is easily transferred to the urethra under such pressure. This secretion could contain bacteria not natural to the urinary tract and increase the frequency with which these women experience UTIs.
- Drugs. Without even getting into elicit drugs, an individual on certain types of prescription medication is at higher risk for a UTI. Antihistamines and decongestants taken for allergies, antipsychotics for mental disorders, and anticholinergics for nervous conditions all make it difficult to completely empty the bladder. Residual urine is a breeding ground for bacteria, which increases the risk of a UTI.
- Diabetes. Especially for women, a lack of control of blood sugar increases the risk of UTIs. When blood sugar is not kept at the right level, the body tries to rid itself of excess sugar through the urinary tract, removing sugar from the blood and expelling it through urine. The sugar can be trapped in the bladder, with bacteria feeding on it, and sugar leaving the body can also irritate the urethra, which leaves it more susceptible to infection by this overabundance of bacteria.
- Underwear. Not all underwear or lingerie is a problem. However, wearing underwear that are too tight, don’t have a cotton crotch, or thongs and g-strings, can increase the risk of developing a UTI. When underwear are too tight and don’t offer the breathability of cotton hold in moisture, leading to greater amounts of bacteria. Thongs and g-strings create a “superhighway” for germs, from the anus and vagina to the urethra, leading to development of infections.
- Birth control. A diaphragm can cause irritation in the urinary tract, as well as pressing on the urethra, which are issues when it comes to developing UTIs. In addition, the use of spermicide, with or without a diaphragm or condom, can change the natural balance of bacteria in the body. Using a condom that doesn’t have lubrication can lead to tears and irritation that make the vagina more susceptible to existing bacteria.
- Sexual activity. Sexual intercourse can quickly and easily spread bacteria from a partner – or from the woman’s anus or vagina – to the urethra, leading to infections. This is especially true for those who have anal sex, followed by vaginal intercourse, without cleaning in between.
Prevention of UTIs
Health and lifestyle choices that put a patient at greater risk for a UTI lead to the necessity to take greater precautions. Ways to avoid infections include:
- Good hygiene
- Drinking lots of fluids, especially water
- Expelling all urine during urination
- Changing birth control methods
- Practicing abstinence or safe sex with one partner
- Urinating immediately after sex
- Wearing loose fitting clothes and underwear with cotton crotches
- Keeping blood sugar well controlled
- Eating less sugar