Why do I get Urinary Tract Infections?

urinary tract infectionUrinary tract infections generally occur when bacteria of the skin near the rectum or vagina spread to the bladder. From avoiding tight underwear to urinating frequently, the Internet is full of proposed ways to decrease your risk for urinary tract infection. Here’s a guide to understanding what’s true and what’s not (and in between).

General Concepts

1. Your general health is extremely important

Like many types of illness, the strength of your immune system and your overall health is crucial to avoiding infection. Things that weaken your immune system (such as diabetes, obesity, stress, and other chronic illness) make you more susceptible to UTIs. Maintaining good general health is one of the most important things you can do.

2. Some risks you cannot change 

Research has demonstrated that infections start when bacteria anchor on to receptors on cells that line the urinary tract and begin to multiply. And, some people are just born with more of these receptors. Age is also a significant risk factor for infection because our immune system weakens as we get older.

3. Keep your urinary tract active

In general, it is a good idea to keep your urinary tract flushed with water. So make sure you drink enough water and make enough trips to the bathroom. This can help rid the urinary tract of bacteria before it becomes an infection.

What’s True (what’s been proven)

Here is a list of risk factors that have been shown to be associated with increased risk for UTI in high-quality research studies.

1. Sexual activity.

Sexual activity  appears to be one of the most notable risk factors for UTI, especially in younger women. Although sexual intercourse is the highest risk activity, oral sex and masturbation also increase risk.

2. Use of diaphragm.

3. Urination after sex.

This actually decreases risk of UTI.

What’s not true (based on available research).

Because poor hygiene and excessive moisture promote bacterial growth in general, many related items have been proposed as risk factors for UTI. This is a list of several risks that have been shown in study NOT to increase risk of UTI. However, just because these things have not been scientifically shown to increase risk does not mean they should be forgotten. Good hygiene is an important part of health maintenance!

1. Urination before sex

2. Use of vaginal deodorants

3. Washing type (bath versus shower)

4. Number of baths or showers per day

5. Bubble baths

6. Use of tampons

7. Use of spermicide

8. Use of birth control (oral contraceptive pills)

Is there something that you have heard causes UTIs that is not on this list? Contact us at [email protected] and we will look into it!

Also, see our blogs about UTI prevention to learn about treatments used to prevent recurrent UTIs!

Note: The items on these lists have been looked at in good quality study. See our blog ‘Understanding the Strength of a Study’ to learn more about this!