Urinary Tract Infections: Causes and Prevention

Tamera Jackson by Tamera Jackson | Licensed since 2007
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the second most common type of infection in the body, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Women get urinary tract infections about four times as often as men. Up to 60% of women will develop urinary tract infections in their lifetimes. Symptoms of urinary tract infections include pain or burning when you urinate, an urge to urinate often, urine that smells bad or looks cloudy, as well as fever, tiredness or shakiness. Complications of urinary tract infections include permanent kidney damage and life-threatening sepsis, according to the Mayo Clinic.

What causes a urinary tract infection?

Urinary tract infections happen when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra and multiplies in the bladder, according to the Mayo Clinic. Women have shorter urethras than men have, which gives bacteria a shorter distance to reach the bladder. Usually the urinary system is equipped to fight off bacteria, but sometimes these defenses fail.

Sometimes a urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria from gastrointestinal (GI) tract spreads from the anus to the urethra. Sexually transmitted infections such as herpes and gonorrhea may also spread from the vagina to the urinary tract and cause infection.

How to prevent urinary tract infections?

Some risk factors for urinary tract infections cannot be prevented. These risk factors include female anatomy, menopause, and urinary tract abnormalities according to the Mayo Clinic.

Risk factors for urinary tract infections you may be able to control include sexual activity and catheter use. Women who are sexually active tend to have more urinary tract infections than women who are not sexually active. When you have an indwelling urinary catheter (one that may stay in place for an extended period of time) you are more likely to develop a urinary tract infection, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Antimicrobial medications may help with the prevention and management of recurrent urinary tract infections in women, according to a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine. According to the same study, the evidence that cranberry juice and tablets prevent urinary tract infections is small and cranberry juice cannot be recommended any longer for urinary tract infection prevention.

Probiotics found in fermented milk products such as yogurt could protect against urinary tract infections, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Learn more about Medicare coverage of urinary tract infection treatment.

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