Urinary tract infections (UTIs) affect around 8.1 million people a year. The urinary tract is composed of the bladder, kidneys, urethra, and the tubes that run between them, the ureters. Bacteria that can grow in this system can lead to infection. UTIs affect both the upper and lower urinary tracts and can develop in both men and women, though the latter are more often affected. Keeping the genital region clean is an essential step for preventing UTIs, even though the vaginal area is considered a self-cleaning mechanism.
After going to the washroom, it is best to wipe from front to back to prevent infection. Wiping back to front can redistribute bacteria, specifically E.coli, from the anal area to the vaginal area. Other conditions can stem from incorrect cleaning, as well, including candidiasis (thrush) and bacterial vaginosis.
Various conditions can influence the growth of bacteria and subsequently an infection in the urinary tract and bladder. Those with spinal cord injuries and nerve damage around the bladder are often unable to empty their bladder completely, and bacteria can grow in the urine left behind. Kidney stones, enlarged prostates, or any other condition that obstructs the flow of urine can cause a urinary tract infection. Diabetes can also be problematic because it weakens the body's natural defense system.
Intercourse can cause urinary tract infections in women. During sex, vaginal discharge, semen, and lubricants can reach the urethra, causing bacterial overgrowth and infection. In some cases, women also have negative reactions to the unfamiliar bacteria of a new sexual partner. Experts suggest women always urinate after sex, to help flush foreign fluids and bacteria from the urethra.
Wearing tight underwear, pants, or jeans can leave the vaginal area unable to properly breathe, or without enough air to remain clean and dry. This can lead to a UTI. Certain underwear material can ease or exacerbate the issue, as well. Cotton and natural fabrics are best. Nylons, spandex, and other synthetics can be too stifling, causing excess sweat and moisture, which can lead to bacterial growth and infection.
Staying well hydrated is essential for health in general, but it is particularly important to prevent, and ease the symptoms of, urinary tract infections. Drinking water increases the frequency of urination, which can help wash harmful bacteria from the urinary tract. When a person has a UTI, they should increase their fluid intake substantially. In addition to water and herbal teas, regularly drinking unsweetened cranberry juice can help prevent future urinary tract infections.
Different women require different types of birth control. Certain varieties can lead to UTIs in some women. Diaphragms, for instance, are coated with spermicides and can cause an infection. Spermicide can be detrimental to the protective bacteria in the vagina and disrupt the PH balance. Once the bacteria are inside the vagina, they do not have far to go to the urinary tract and the bladder. Spermicides and condoms can also increase the risk of Candida infections.
Women in a menopausal transition are susceptible to urinary tract infections because their estrogen levels are falling. Changes occurring to the vaginal wall and the urethra and vaginal dryness cause these fluctuations. A menopausal woman who experiences difficulty or pain urinating, or stress incontinence, could have a UTI.
People who require a catheter for urination could develop urinary tract infections from the insertion or prolonged presence of the tube. Naturally, when you put anything up the urethra tract, it must be sterile, but the body is also not accustomed to a foreign body in this location for extended periods. Hospitalized individuals generally receive indwelling urinary catheters; they are more prone to bladder, kidney, and urinary tract infections.
A weak immune system can lead to a urinary tract infection. The vagina contains natural substances and friendly bacteria that usually prevents harmful bacteria from multiplying there. When the immune system is weak due to poor diet, illness, or other infections, bacteria can overgrow and affect the whole body, including the urethra. Diet and gut flora can also play a big part in a urinary tract infection, so taking a probiotic can help prevent UTIs.
Women are more prone to developing urinary tract infections because a shorter urethra means the bacteria do not have to travel as far to reach the bladder and is more likely to cause infection, but men can get UTIs as well. About half of women will experience one urinary tract infection in their lives, and many of these will have repeated infections. A small percentage of women experience chronic urinary tract infections, and this risk increases with age.
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