Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a very common women’s health condition, with around 60% of women experiencing a UTI at some point in their lives. While all ages and genders can experience UTIs, they are much more common in women due to the anatomy of the urethra. Symptoms include needing to go to the toilet more often and more urgently, pain when urinating and pain around the pelvis and lower back.
UTIs are caused by bacteria which enters the urethra and travels to the bladder, causing inflammation and infection. Although the urinary tract is designed to keep bacteria out, sometimes the defences fail and bacteria is able to reach the bladder or kidneys. There are many things which can cause a UTI including; not drinking enough fluids, having a weakened immune system (particularly existing health conditions such as diabetes or cancer), having sex, being pregnant, having a urinary catheter, having a condition which makes it hard to empty the bladder or not keeping the genital area clean and dry.
Many women suffering from UTIs will try home remedies to alleviate their symptoms before reaching out to their GP, however it can be hard to know which of these treatments will be effective and which are just myths. In order to get the treatment you need and to understand how future UTIs can be prevented, learn more about which home remedies may help and when you should seek medical help from a professional.
UTI Myths or Facts?
Cranberry Juice will cure my UTI
The myth that drinking cranberry juice can cure the symptoms of a UTI is one of the most common myths discussed amongst women. However, if you are hoping that this method will stop you getting a UTI you may want to reconsider. Research into this health myth has been mixed, with a study in 2013 finding that drinking cranberry juice did not significantly reduce the risk of developing a UTI compared to drinking a placebo and a recent review of research suggesting there is not enough evidence to suggest that drinking cranberry juice is effective in women with an active UTI.
While cranberry juice has many excellent health benefits such as reducing inflammation and supporting health digestion, if you are suffering from a UTI, a visit to your GP to get the right medication will be more effective in alleviating symptoms.
Sex causes UTIs
If you have suffered from a UTI in the past, you may have heard that they are caused by having sex. This statement can be considered as both a myth and a fact as people who are not sexually active can still experience UTIs, however they are more common in those who are sexually active for the following reasons;
During sex, bacteria can build up within the vagina, which can inadvertently get into the urethra. As women have a shorter urethra, there is less distance for the bacteria to travel before getting to the bladder. Urinating after sex can help to clear this bacteria out and prevent developing an infection but this isn’t always effective.
Women are at risk of contracting a UTI while being pregnant and experiencing menopause or perimenopause. This is because of the change in hormones in the urinary tract during these times, leading to less urination and increasing the risk of infection.
Pregnant women also find it more difficult to fully empty their bladder, increasing the risk for a UTI infection.
Swimwear can cause UTIs
As surprising as it sounds, swimwear or wet clothing can increase the risk of developing UTIs. Wearing wet clothes for a long period can lead to the creation of bacteria, due to the warmth and moist environment. The best solution to prevent developing a UTI in this way is to change out of wet clothes as quickly as possible.
Tampons can cause UTIs
Tampons do not cause UTIs and can actually protect women against UTIs as they absorb moisture which bacteria is known to thrive in.
Men can get UTIs
Men, despite being less at risk of developing UTIs can still get them. They are seen more in men who suffer from medical conditions such as kidney stones, incontinence, and prostate cancer.
How to prevent UTIs
In order to prevent UTIs, there are a number of things that can help;
Drink lots of water. The simplest way of preventing a UTI is to drink lots of water so you are regularly using the toilet during the day which will flush bacteria out of the bladder and urinary tract.
Keep the genital area clean and dry and wipe from front to back when going to the toilet. Hygiene is the most important factor when it comes to keeping bacteria away from your urethra.
Wash before sex and wash and urinate afterwards. Washing with water and soap before sex can stop bacteria from reaching the urethra. Urinating afterwards can flush out bacteria transmitted from sex and clear out the urinary tract.
Stop using irritable products. A study in 2021 from researchers at The University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada found that women who used intimate hygiene products had a 3.5 times higher risk of developing a bacterial infection and 2.5 times higher risk of developing a UTI.
Rethink your birth control. Not all birth control can lead to UTIs, but some can destroy the healthy bacteria in the vagina and create an unnatural balance. The following are linked to a higher risk:
To summarise, UTIs are a very common health condition which are most often seen in women and have multiple causes. If you are suffering with recurring UTIs or looking to alleviate the symptoms you are experiencing, book an appointment with your GP who will be able to investigate the likely cause, and if required prescribe medication.
If you require a UTI appointment with an expert GP, Mayfield clinic is available for same day or next day appointments at our Oxford or London Clinic or virtually from the comfort of your own home.