Frequent UTIs? How to Assess Your Own Risk for a Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections may not seem like a big deal to most women, but urological health is important. Learn more about this irritating, yet common, condition.

Those of us who have had just one urinary tract infection in our lives know the pain and inconvenience they cause. Some women never get urinary tract infections (UTIs) while others seem to get them more frequently. Although some women are more prone to getting UTIs due to behavioral and genetic factors, there are ways to prevent a UTI from happening.

Dianne Glass, MD, PhD, a urogynecologist at UChicago Medicine explains what to do when you get a UTI and how to try to prevent it.

What causes a UTI?

“Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria from the vagina invade the bladder by climbing the urethra,” says Dr. Glass. “UTIs are very common in sexually active young women as well as women after menopause.”

UTIs are very common in women and may occur in men as well, but it’s far less likely. “Women make up 84% of medical visits for UTIs,” she says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the risk factors of UTIs are having a previous UTI, sexual activity, changes in bacteria that live inside the vagina or vagina flora, pregnancy, age, structural problems in the urinary tract and poor hygiene.”

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

“The most common symptoms of a urinary tract infection are a burning sensation during urination, frequent need to urinate, the feeling of not being able to completely empty your bladder and pelvic pain,” says Dr. Glass.

She also explains that if you see blood in your urine, you may be having a severe UTI.

“In older patients, symptoms are sometimes more subtle and can include confusion,” says Dr. Glass.

How to treat and prevent a UTI

“Generally, UTI symptoms improve within a few days of starting antibiotics,” says Dr. Glass. Although some women do not feel the need to go see a doctor when they have a UTI and have had their UTIs go away on their own.

frequent-utis-how-to-assess-your-risk
Dianne Glass, MD, PhD, is a urogynecologist with UChicago Medicine. Photo credit: UChicago Medicine.

“If left untreated, some bladder infections will go away on their own and in rare cases, untreated bladder infections can lead to bacteria entering the ureters and cause infection within kidneys,” she says.

She explains that if you’re having a “recurrent UTI” — two urinary tract infections in the past six months or three in the past year — you should see a urogynecologist or a urologist for further evaluation.

Risk factors for recurrent urinary tract infections are broken up into two categories — behavioral and genetic.

“Behavioral risk factors include sexual activity, a new sexual partner and the use of spermicides,” says Dr. Glass. Genetic risk factors, on the other hand, include having a mother with a history of UTIs, or having UTIs as a child. Being post-menopausal, or experiencing fecal or urinary incontinence are also risk factors, she says.

UTIs are often treated with a short course of antibiotics although, there are some popular at-home treatment methods that have not been proven but seem to help.

“Popular at-home methods for treating or preventing UTIs include increasing how often you urinate, wearing certain types of underwear, avoiding hot tubs and bubble baths, urinating after intercourse and wiping away from the urethra and taking cranberry pills,” says Dr. Glass.

When to seek medical care

The CDC recommends talking to a healthcare professional if your symptoms of a UTI are severe.

“Your healthcare professional will determine if you have a UTI by asking about symptoms, doing a physical exam and ordering urine tests if needed,” according to the CDC.

The CDC also stresses taking all of your antibiotics and drinking plenty of water or other fluids in order to feel better.

And, for those who have experienced the pain of a UTI, the relief of recovery is welcome.

Content brought to you by UChicago Medicine. Learn about UChicago Medicine and Comer Children’s unique approach to caring for women and children. Discover UchicagoMedicine.org.

Kari Zaffarano
Kari Zaffarano
Kari Zaffarano is a mom of one and Chicago Parent's Audience Development Coordinator. She tracks down the best events every week and shares the inside scoop with families in print and online. She enjoys reading, traveling and exploring new places with her son.

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