A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is an infection in your urinary system. This system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. When an infection is present somewhere in this system, it can cause pain, burning sensations, a frequent urge to urinate, and discomfort around your genitals.
Symptoms of UTI often change as we age, presenting in different ways. If unrecognized and left untreated, UTIs can be a serious threat and have much greater health risks.
But luckily, living with UTIs doesn’t have to be inevitable. Let’s talk about how to prevent them!
What Causes a UTI?
The urinary system is responsible for filtering out the minerals and nutrients we consume. It keeps the body in perfect balance of chemicals such as sodium, sugar, and potassium, filtering out what we don’t need and keeping what we do. So, it has a pretty important job!
A urinary tract infection is caused when bacteria enters the urinary system. Even though our urinary system filters out waste, it typically doesn’t contain bacteria. So, when germs do find their way in, it can cause inflammation and infection.
Bacteria almost always enter the urinary system from the outside. In other words, anything that brings bacteria close to your urinary tract can be a cause of UTI.
Let’s look at some of the most common causes of UTIs:
Having a catheter. Sometimes infection can grow when you have a catheter or tube that drains your urine for you.
Wiping from back to front after a bowel movement. This brings bacteria from the back to the front where it can enter your urinary system.
Holding your urine in for too long. This can cause germs to grow in your urinary tract which can lead to infection.
Having a kidney stone. Kidney stones often make it difficult and painful to empty your bladder, which can cause bacteria to grow.
Menopause can lower the production of estrogen, which is responsible for combating infection.
Diabetes can alter our immune system’s ability to fight germs as well.
Certain types of birth control.
- If you have urinary incontinence.
Symptoms of a UTI
The most common symptoms associated with UTIs are the following:
- Frequent and urgent need to urinate
- Incontinence (leaking urine due to the intensity of the urges)
- Pain when urinating or blood in urine
- Cloudy or foggy urine
- Abnormal urinating during the night
- Pain in the genitals
- Pain in the stomach, bladder, or pelvic area
- Pressure in the pelvis
However, UTIs often present as different symptoms in older adults. It’s important to know these signs as UTIs can cause kidney damage if left untreated.
Here are things you should look out for:
- Fever (any temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mental changes or confusion
Who is at Risk?
While anyone can get a UTI, women and older adults are at a greater risk for developing them and get them more often. In fact, 25-35% of women get UTIs between 20 and 40 years old. In addition, UTIs are one of the most commonly diagnosed infections in older adults. Here’s why.
UTIs in Women
There are a few factors that give women a greater risk for getting UTIs. One of the factors is anatomy. Women have a shorter urethra than men, which means there’s less distance for bacteria to travel to get to the bladder.
Certain types of birth control can also cause UTIs, especially diaphragm contraception and spermicidal agents. Menopause is another factor that increases the risk of getting a UTI. As women go through menopause, they produce less estrogen. Estrogen is great at fighting bacteria, so when less of it is produced, germs are more likely to grow and cause infection.
UTIs in Older Adults
Older adults are also at a greater risk for developing a UTI. Bladder obstruction is a common cause of UTIs in men. If you use a catheter, this could also put you at a greater risk for getting a UTI. And, as mentioned above, menopause in older women increases the risk of getting a UTI.
When you have urinary incontinence, the risk of getting a UTI can increase as well. Some forms of UI make it difficult to completely empty your bladder each time, so you may have bacteria in your urinary tract for longer. In addition, if you live with UI, having your skin exposed to urine for long periods of time can allow for bacterial infection to enter. This could also cause a UTI.
There are many risk factors associated with getting UTIs, but thankfully, there’s a world of resources available to help prevent getting a UTI and keep your urinary tract healthy!
Here are 5 of the best ways to do this!
Ways To Prevent UTIs
1. Proper Skincare
When you live with urinary incontinence, you can experience dryness, chafing, and a greater risk of developing skin issues due to increased exposure to urine. This can also lead to infection as bacteria are more likely to grow around the exposed area.
However, using these skin care techniques can help increase your confidence, protect your skin, and prevent bacteria from entering your urinary tract.
- Frequently change adult diapers, pads, and briefs.
- Use gentle cleansers or perfume-free wipes to keep affected areas clean.
- Moisturize with a lotion or barrier cream.
When you live with incontinence, ensuring that you use the proper skin care techniques and products is key to preventing UTI and other skin issues.
Check out these tools and resources for living with incontinence!
2. Drink Plenty of Water
Not only is water vital for all our bodily functions, it’s an important part of our urinary health too! Water dilutes our urine and helps flush out bacteria and germs that may have entered into the urinary tract.
The more water your drink, the more often you can flush these germs out. It’s recommended that you drink six glasses of water per day to stay hydrated.
To take extra preventative measures against getting a UTI, drink a full glass of water before sexual intercourse too and drink one with each meal, and in between each meal to get your total recommended amount.
You’ll know if you’re drinking enough water when your urine is a lighter, almost-clear color. If it’s a darker yellow, drink more.
3. Wipe Properly
Since a common cause of UTI is wiping back to front after a bowel movement, make sure to wipe front to back instead. This eliminates the risk of bringing fecal bacteria forward to enter your urinary tract and cause infection.
4. Take Showers Instead of Baths
While taking a bath can be relaxing and fun, it can also increase the risk of bacteria entering your urinary system. Taking a shower instead of a bath eliminates this risk altogether.
If you’re an older adult and you typically take baths, it’s important to prioritize safety in your shower. Try adding non-slip to the shower floor and railings inside to hold onto. You can also add a shower seat so you can sit while still protecting yourself from a UTI.
5. Avoid Irritating Food and Drinks
Some urologists recommend avoiding foods or drinks that irritate the urethra.
Below is a list of common foods that may irritate your bladder and increase the risk of a UTI:
- Spicy foods
- Soy sauce
- Dairy products
- Alcoholic beverages such as liquor, beer, or wine.
- Carbonated beverages
These foods can cause irritation in your bladder and increase the risk of getting a UTI.
6. Use a Probiotic
Feminine probiotics are a great proven way to prevent recurrent UTIs in women. There are certain healthy bacteria present in the vaginal cavity, such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, that balance pH and the vaginal microbiome. This Probiotic Support is specialized to promote vaginal health by balancing the vaginal cavity and supporting urinary and digestive health.
Other Things To Know
If you do notice symptoms of a UTI, call your doctor right away. Especially if you notice symptoms such as confusion, fever, and nausea, you’ll want to get medical care as soon as possible. If you don’t go to the doctor, a UTI can grow and harm your kidneys and urinary system, so it’s best to treat it as soon as you notice it.
UTIs are usually simple to treat, and by taking these preventative measures you can decrease how often you get UTIs and prevent them from happening next time.
The risk for getting a urinary tract infection increases with age, but thankfully, there’s a variety of tools and resources to support urinary health and prevent UTIs and keep living the life you love.
Whether you have urinary incontinence or have a history of UTIs, being able to recognize the symptoms of UTI is key to early detection and treatment! These five tips can help you prevent UTIs.