Why are women more likely to get a UTI?

Women's Care
Jul 28, 2022

St. Joseph’s/Candler OB/GYN Dr. Katherine Bebeau explains causes, symptoms, treating and preventing urinary tract infections

It’s a common health problem that affects millions of people each year, especially if you are a woman – a urinary tract infection (UTI). In fact, more than 60 percent of women will have a UTI at some point in their life.

A UTI is an infection involving either the kidneys or bladder, explains Dr. Katherine Bebeau, St. Joseph’s/Candler Physician Network OB/GYN. An infection in the bladder is called cystitis, while an infection of the kidney is called pyelonephritis.

UTIs are caused by bacteria that make their way from the skin on the outside of the urinary tract through the urethra (the small passageway between the bladder and the outside world) and into either the bladder, kidneys or both. Dr. Katherine Bebeau

So why do women tend to experience UTIs more often than men?

“Women in general are more prone to getting UTIs over men because women have shorter urethras making it easier for bacteria to enter,” Dr. Bebeau says. “Additionally, the vagina and rectum, which are much closer to the urethra in women than men, increase the risk of UTIs.”

And if you are pregnant, you also are at higher risk of getting kidney infections, which could become septic. This is not only dangerous for mom but also baby. If you are pregnant and are concerned you have a UTI, you should see your doctor right away, Dr. Bebeau advises.

Related article: What is sepsis?

Symptoms of a UTI

Depending if the infection is in the bladder or kidneys, you may experience a variety of symptoms. If the infection is in your bladder it can cause painful urination or urinating more frequently. It also can cause blood in your urine, foul odor to urine or urinary incontinence.

If the infection is in your kidneys, it can cause back pain, fever, nausea or vomiting.

“Anytime you think you might have a UTI you should go to your doctor,” Dr. Bebeau says. “It’s important to leave a urine sample that can be cultured in the lab prior to starting antibiotics. This ensures that you are on the correct antibiotic based on what kind of bug is causing your infection.”

Treating a UTI

As alluded to, UTIs are treated with antibiotics, typically oral. If the infection has spread or is in the renal area, that may necessitate hospitalization for intravenous (IV) antibiotics, Dr. Bebeau says.

“Although mostly treated as an outpatient, UTIs can potentially cause an infection in your bloodstream if not treated appropriately,” Dr. Bebeau says. “This is called bacteremia and can potentially lead to sepsis which is a life-threatening condition. Although this outcome is rare, its risk increases with age and medical co-morbidities.”

So it’s important to see your doctor if you suspect a UTI to get on the right antibiotic that wipes out all the bacteria causing the infection.

Related article: On an antibiotic? Be sure to finish the entire prescription.

Preventing UTIs

Yes, UTIs can be prevented. In fact, there are many basic ways to prevent a UTI, Dr. Bebeau says, including:

  • When you feel the urge to urinate, don’t hold it.
  • Avoid douching.
  • Always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement.
  • After intercourse, use the restroom to flush and clean.
  • Drink plenty of water.

If you are more prone to UTIs, certainly if you have more than three a year, Dr. Bebeau says it’s worthwhile talking to your doctor about suppressive medication to try to prevent them.

Looking for an OB/GYN in Savannah or Pooler? Request an appointment with Dr. Bebeau or any of our St. Joseph’s/Candler OB/GYNs.

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