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The urinary tract is composed of the bladder, kidneys, urethra, and the tubes that run between them, the ureters. Bacteria can enter this system from the genital opening and lead to infection. Urinary tract infections or UTIs may affect the upper or lower urinary tracts and are most common in women, though men can also develop them. Around 8.1 million people get a UTI each year.

Incorrect Wiping Direction

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.

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Disease

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.

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Intercourse

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.

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Underwear

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.

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Dehydration

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.

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Birth Control

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.

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Menopause

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.

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Catheter Use

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.

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Suppressed Immune System

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.

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Gender

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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Antibiotic Use and Resistance

Under typical circumstances, antibiotics are the go-to treatment for UTIs. However, some people are prone to recurrent UTIs. This can easily lead to antibiotic resistance, meaning that the bacteria responsible for the infections no longer respond to treatment.

Because of this, the risk of a serious infection that requires hospitalization becomes far higher.

Man hand taking medicine Ridofranz / Getty Images

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Hygiene Products and Potential Risks

Many people worry about the cleanliness of their genitals and will use a variety of products to prevent "uncleanliness". However, these products often do far more harm than good, especially for female sex organs. Actions like douching can easily wash away the vaginal flora, creating an ideal environment for bacteria to grow.

Harsh or strongly scented products can also irritate the genitals, opening wounds that would allow for an infection to develop.

Girl taking a shower bluesunrise / Getty Images

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Importance of Regular Urination

Urinating regularly is one of the best ways to prevent UTIs. Every time a person urinates, the rush of urine flushes harmful bacteria and other microbes out of the urinary tract. This is particularly important following events that could introduce bacteria to the area, like sex.

Additionally, avoid holding urine as much as possible. Holding urine can lead to bladder dysfunction and increase the risk of UTIs. The longer urine sits in the bladder, the more time bacteria to establish and grow.

Closeup hand pulling toilet paper roll in holder for wipeCloseup hand pulling toilet paper roll in holder for wipe, woman sitting on toilet she taking and tearing white tissue on wall to towel clean in bathroom, Healthcare concept Sorapop / Getty Images

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Physical Activity and Its Influence on UTIs

Some research indicates that living an active lifestyle could help prevent UTIs. People who exercise regularly are far more likely to drink healthy amounts of water, which encourages frequent urination. This, in turn, keeps the urethra free of infection-causing bacteria. Exercise can also strengthen the pelvic muscles, preventing leakages that also increase UTI risk.

Happy sportswoman with earbuds running in the park. azen Zigic / Getty Images

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Role of Hormonal Changes Beyond Menopause

Hormonal changes can make people far more vulnerable to UTIs. Most notably, low estrogen levels have links to vaginal dryness and itching, which are serious risk factors for UTIs. Usually, estrogen levels drop after menopause. However, some people have other conditions that impact their hormone levels, such as autoimmune disorders, eating disorders, or genetic conditions like Turner syndrome.

Some people benefit from hormone replacement therapy to increase estrogen levels. Beyond estrogen, high progesterone levels may encourage smooth muscle relaxation, promoting leakage and UTIs.

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Dietary Factors and UTIs

Many wellness companies and influencers claim that a person's diet can affect their susceptibility to UTIs. These claims are often rooted in misinformation and half-truths. According to most modern research, diet is not an independent risk factor for UTIs.

A small amount of evidence does indicate that plant-based diets have links to lower UTI rates. However, researchers point out that this could simply be because individuals who consume plant-based diets are more likely to be health-conscious in other ways and practice a lifestyle that limits UTIs.

A young woman eats oatmeal Milan Markovic / Getty Images

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The Relationship Between Stress and UTIs

Stress cannot directly influence the likelihood of someone developing UTIs, but it can trigger a series of events that may make people more vulnerable. Most notably, chronic stress encourages the production of the hormone cortisol. This hormone can weaken the immune system, leading to chronic infections.

Stress can also worsen existing urinary tract issues, potentially increasing UTI risk.

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Influence of Genetics on UTIs

Some people are born with a genetic predisposition for UTIs. This can take many forms. Individuals with a family history of bladder inflammation or kidney infections are far more likely to have UTIs. Many children are born with vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), a typically asymptomatic condition where urine flows backward from the bladder into the ureters and kidneys. VUR is a key risk factor for the movement of bacteria from the urethra to the bladder, resulting in more frequent UTIs.

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Impact of UTIs on Pregnancy

Pregnancy and UTIs have a complex relationship, both affecting the other in many ways. Due to hormonal changes, pressure on the bladder, and other factors, UTIs are quite common during pregnancy. In turn, UTIs during this time can be far more severe, resulting in complications like pyelonephritis—inflammation of the kidney.

Side effects of pyelonephritis in a pregnant person may include persistent infections, sepsis, pulmonary issues, and several other life-threatening issues. In some scenarios, inflammation and bacteria may harm the development of the fetus.

Woman Enjoying Pregnancy At Home urbazon / Getty Images

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Prevention Strategies for UTIs

Many simple lifestyle changes can help prevent UTIs. Frequent exercise and drinking lots of water tend to have long-term benefits beyond preventing UTIs and should be a regular part of any healthy lifestyle. Additionally, always wash genitals before and after sex to prevent shared bacteria from entering the urethra.

People with vaginas, in particular, should urinate after sex to flush out any bacteria. Make sure to wash the rectum regularly to limit the spread of infectious material.

Young woman drinking water at home Maca and Naca / Getty Images

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.

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