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Choosing birth control that works for each one, both physically and practically, is between a woman and her doctor. Unless a woman has a history of chronic or recurring UTIs, then a diaphragm is an option that can work.

Women are more prone to urinary tract infections than their male counterparts simply by being built differently. A female’s urethra is shorter than a male’s, giving the bacteria a shorter route to travel before infecting the bladder. The urethra also sits just inches from a woman’s anus where the E coli responsible for most UTIs is most often found.

Since UTIs can interrupt a woman’s daily life and make it hard to continue with her schedule by causing pain, irritation, and stress, most would rather not do anything that can help to cause one. One of the questions women have is about the form of birth control they use, namely diaphragms, and whether they can be a cause for urinary tract infections.

Urinary tract infections involve the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. The sex organs are not a part of that system, so why would birth control be the cause of a UTI?

Diaphragms and UTIs

Urinary tract infections are the reason for approximately five million visits to the doctor. Women who use diaphragms as contraception are two times as likely to suffer from one unless they are careful to take precautions against them. Doctors say this statistic isn’t cause for panicking unless a woman is prone to chronic or recurring UTIs. Even then, switching birth control may be a trade-off situation. Diaphragms can be a protective barrier to other more serious infections such as gonorrhea. So, evaluate the risks with a doctor and then make an informed choice.

One reason for the diaphragm being blamed for urinary tract infections is the way the spermicide used inside it changes the atmosphere of the vagina. Spermicide kills the body’s protective form of bacteria and changes the PH balance of the vagina. At the same time a woman’s fingers and the diaphragm are introducing foreign bacteria into the same location.

Secondly, the diaphragm can obstruct, or slightly block, the urethra. This is the tube that leads from the outside of the body to the bladder. When it is obstructed a small amount of urine may be unable to exit. As it sits in the bladder bacteria accumulates and begins to grow in amount. An infection can stem from this situation.

Diaphragms are often used after pregnancy or while being off the pill for a short time. When the diaphragm is used to resume sexual activity after a long period of abstinence, or for increased sexual activity, then it can cause unusual pressure and irritation in the vagina which can add to the chances of a UTI.

There is also the issue of an ill-fitting diaphragm. It should fit snugly, but not cause tension or irritation to the delicate tissue in the vagina. The rim should remain fully open. If a woman’s is too snug, or slips, then it should be refitted. A female’s body can change shapes, both inside and out, over time. The fit of the diaphragm should be checked every year and adjusted if necessary. However, if it is already uncomfortable for the required six to eight hours needed after a sexual encounter, then don’t wait. See a doctor as soon as possible for an evaluation.

Be careful about placement of the diaphragm. This part is up to the woman herself. If situated incorrectly, the diaphragm may irritate the tissue and allow bacteria to gain access to an area where it isn’t desired.

UTI symptoms

If, by chance, a woman is worried that she might be suffering from a UTI, knowing the symptoms may be of help.

  • Pain and burning while urinating
  • Pressure to urinate more often
  • Less urine that is also cloudy or white in appearance
  • Dark, red, or pink urine (blood involved)
  • Nasty, strong odor to urine
  • Pelvic or back pain
  • Incontinence or leakage

Prevention

A woman can opt to use a different form of birth control than a diaphragm, but that may not be necessary unless the urinary tract infections keep returning. There are ways to lessen the chances of getting a UTI that are easy to accomplish.

  • First and foremost, drink plenty of fluids. Water is best. Caffeine and sugar can irritate the urethra and bladder.
  • The doctor can give preventative doses of antibiotics. These are for use after sexual encounters or can be small daily doses. There is, however, a down side to this treatment. Bacteria may become resistant to the usual antibiotics in this manner, or the woman could eventually develop an allergy to the antibiotic.
  • Empty the bladder more often. Don’t sit and hold it in. Make sure the bladder is completely empty. Leftover urine breeds bacteria.
  • Wash hands and genitals before and after sex. Also wash them before inserting the diaphragm and after as well.
  • Wipe from front to back to decrease chances of E coli coming from anus to urethra.
  • Try to take showers when possible instead of baths.
  • Avoid perfumed or irritating female hygiene products.
  • Be sure a sexual partner is also clean, especially if uncircumcised.

Treatment

If a woman is unlucky and gets a UTI, the cure is only a doctor’s visit away. The doctor will have her urinate in a cup to do a urinalysis. This test will immediately determine whether an infection is present or not. It will show pus or blood in the urine itself. Then, the doctor may send a culture to the lab to grow. This determines the type of bacteria involved and allows for a more exact match of antibiotic treatment.

Treatment for an uncomplicated urinary tract infection (urethra and bladder only) will take approximately three days, though sometimes the doctor prescribes seven. If the infection has spread to the kidneys, the treatment may last seven to 14 days.

Conclusion

No two women are alike. Choosing birth control that works for each one, both physically and practically, is between a woman and her doctor. Unless a woman has a history of chronic or recurring UTIs, then a diaphragm is an option that can work. However, the woman should be aware that a urinary tract infection is more likely with one than without. Information is the key to success. The knowledge that it can happen, how to prevent it, and what to do if it occurs, gives a woman the ability and power to make good choices for herself.  

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