If you’ve endured a urinary tract infection (UTI), you’re not alone. Up to fifty percent of women will experience a UTI over the course of their lives. UTIs are disruptive and uncomfortable; even more so when they don’t seem to go away.
Why does this happen and is there anything you can do to prevent a UTI from recurring?
A urinary tract infection (UTI) develops when bacteria, usually uropathogenic escherichia coli (UPEC), enter your urinary tract and create inflammation in your urethra or bladder. If you get more than one UTI over the course of six months or three in a year, you may have a chronic UTI. In fact, of the women who will experience one UTI, up to 26% will experience a second UTI within six to twelve months.
Whether you have one UTI or multiple, the symptoms are much the same. Common symptoms of a chronic UTI include painful urination, incontinence, and a feeling of urgency to urinate which often develop in a short period of time.
A UTI is one of the most common infections you can have, but there’s still much to learn about what causes them and contributes to recurrence.
First, we need to understand the difference between a recurring infection and a relapse. Sometimes the bacteria from your first UTI does not fully respond to antibiotics or treatment and comes back within a few weeks, which is known as a relapsing infection. Reinfection, on the other hand, happens when a new type of bacteria enters your urinary tract and creates a new infection that is different from the first.
The most frequent instances of UTIs are reinfections, but why they occur in some women more than others is still under investigation. One small study hypothesizes that bacteria can also live in the intestine and that during treatment that targets the bladder, the bacteria remain in the intestine and causes recurrent infections.
Some women do have a higher risk of getting UTIs, for instance, if you participate in frequent sexual activity, have an active bladder, or are not able to completely empty your bladder. Other factors that increase the likelihood of a UTI can include having diabetes and going through menopause.
Women going through menopause are more likely to experience a recurring UTI. When you go through menopause, your estrogen levels decline, which disrupts the organisms in your urinary tract and reproductive organs. One of these organisms is lactobacillus, which decreases as a result of low estrogen. Lactobacillus is essential for creating lactic acid, which is what helps prevent bacteria and infection and maintain a healthy environment. Low levels of lactic acid can increase your risk of developing recurring UTIs.
The first line of defense to treat a UTI, your first or one of many, is antibiotics. Depending on the results of your exam and any lab tests, your doctor will prescribe you a round of antibiotics to take to eliminate any bacteria and infection from your urinary tract.
For chronic UTIs, however, there is some debate about the efficacy of repeating antibiotics as treatment and questions about whether continued antibiotic use can lead to “multidrug-resistant organisms.”
Other popular, scientifically-proven methods to treat chronic UTIs are cranberry juice and Lactobacillus probiotics. You may hear of some other alternatives such as hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, and varieties of Chinese herbal medicine, but none have a significant impact on treating or relieving symptoms of a UTI.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prevent a UTI from recurring. Some of the most common prevention methods include:
- Only wipe front to back after urination or a bowel movement
- Use a new piece of toilet paper each time you need to wipe
- Use non-irritating soaps and detergents
- Wear loose-fitting clothing
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
- Urinate after sexual intercourse and, if possible, use a bidet
- Avoid reusing washcloths or sponges when bathing or showering
If you follow all these suggestions and still aren’t able to find relief, make an appointment to talk to your doctor about your symptoms and different treatment options for chronic UTIs.