UTI is one of the most common infections globally, with around 150 million cases occurring every year. More than 90% of people who get UTI are women and it’s most often seen in the 16-35 age range. That said, women that are experiencing menopause or are in their 60s or older are also at an increased risk, simply because the immune system tends to be a bit weaker at that age. In the vast majority of cases, UTI is a simple acute bladder infection (cystitis) caused by bacteria and treatable with antibiotics. It can be painful and there’s an increased urge to urinate, but there aren’t any more severe symptoms.
A fraction of cases can turn into a reoccurring or chronic UTI, which then is called a complicated UTI. Complicated UTI also include pregnancy related UTI, UTI after surgery, UTI in women above age 60, as well as UTI in diabetic women. If neglected or not treated successfully, a complicated UTI can cause the bacteria to spread into the kidneys and thus cause a life-endangering kidney infection. The symptoms of the latter include high fever >100 degrees, back aches, vomiting, and body chills.
There are about 1.3 million complicated UTI cases in the U.S. every year and they require more than standard antibiotics for treatment. Fortunately, the death rate is very low: only 2% of all complicated UTI have a fatal ending.
UTIs are caused by bacteria getting into the urinary tract that have no business there. The most common bacteria family to trigger UTI is E. coli, which normally resides in the digestive tracts of animals and humans and therefore also can be found in all feces. If by accident E. coli enters the vagina and advances up the urethra (the duct that transports urine from the bladder) it can settle in the bladder and multiply. Once a certain critical mass of bacteria is reached, the bladder gets infected, causing pain and greater urination. The risk factors that raise the likelihood of bacteria entering the urinary tract include:
Good genital hygiene is of paramount importance if you want to minimize the risks of getting UTI. Wash your genital area daily with a mild soap and when at the toilet always wipe from the front to the back. It’s also a good practice to rinse your genital area after each major visit to the bathroom. Don’t use hygiene sprays and creams or douches, though, as they can cause skin rashes.
The same hygiene principles apply to sex. Always clean your genitals prior to and after sex. The same goes for your partner. Avoid swapping from anal to vaginal sex without proper cleaning and/or using a new condom. Urinating after sex helps to flush your system of any bacteria that may have gotten in during sex. Another word of caution: avoid sexual intercourse when you are not wet enough yet, as “dry” sex can cause friction to damages the urethra wall and thereby make space for bacteria to settle in. You can use lubricants or lubricated condoms to avoid this.
Make sure to not wear tight underwear and/or pants, especially during the summer months, as the warm and moist environment in your undies is an ideal environment for bacterial growth. Often the problem is not the underwear but the tight jeans you are wearing on top of it. Also avoid synthetic underwear.
You want to stay hydrated and go to the bathroom whenever you feel like it — don’t hold your urine for too long. Frequent urination helps flushing your urinary tract and stops bacteria spread.