Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) account for roughly 8.1 million annual doctor visits, and about 60 percent of women will experience a UTI in their lifetime. To understand why UTIs occur, it is helpful to understand the urinary tract, which makes and stores urine in the kidneys, and travels down the ureters to the bladder where it is stored until emptied. Urine is emptied through the urethra, a tube that connects the bladder to the skin. The opening of the urethra is at the end of the vaginal opening in females. Normal urine doesn’t have bacteria in it, but bacteria can get into urine through the urethra.
UTI symptoms include a need to urinate more often, and burning or pain when urinating. It can also cause a strong urge to urinate even when you don't have much urine in your bladder. The urine may also smell bad and appear cloudy or even bloody. It is important to call your health provider if you experience any of these symptoms. Noticing any blood in the urine may indicate a sign of something more serious, making the need to call your health provider more urgent.
One of the primary causes of UTIs in women is that they have shorter urethra than men. However, some women are more prone to UTIs compared to others. Women who are going through menopause typically have a higher chance of getting a UTI due to a reduction in their estrogen levels. Some women are genetically predisposed to UTIs. Sexual intercourse can trigger and also increase the frequency of UTIs, as can the use of diaphragms and condoms with spermicidal foam.
Sometimes the cause of UTIs is an abnormality in the urinary tract. Such abnormalities include diverticula that harbor bacteria in the bladder or urethra or blockages, such as an enlarged bladder, that prevents the body from completely draining urine from the bladder. Individuals with diabetes are also at a higher risk, as their bodies don’t fight germs off as well.
To decrease the risk of UTI, it is helpful to drink plenty of fluids, refrain from putting off urinating, or not fully emptying the bladder due to being in a rush to urinate. Drinking cranberry juice or taking over-the-counter cranberry supplements can also help prevent UTIs.
Fortunately, most women have simple UTIs that can be successfully treated with a short course of antibiotics, after which symptoms are alleviated. Postmenopausal women who experience UTIs can often be helped with topical hormone replacement with estrogen. When a UTI is complicated, a longer course of antibiotics is required, sometimes intravenously at a hospital. Women who get UTIs often should see their health provider for testing and treatment.
Armen Kirakosyan, MD, FACOG, FMPRS, FRCSC, FACS is a board-certified urogynecologist at General Physician, PC. He is experienced in treating a wide range of issues, from the most basic to complex surgeries. Learn more. To make an appointment with Dr. Kirakosyan, click here or call 716-656-4077.