Here's Why You Keep Getting UTIs

Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
This article was originally published on February 12, 2016.

There's nothing quite like a urinary tract infection (UTI) to take the wind out of your sexy sails. One week you're enjoying getting intimate with your partner. Then suddenly there's no ignoring the familiar signs: pelvic pain, needing to pee all the time, and the burning? Ugh.

So we talked to Raquel B. Dardik, MD, of NYU Langone Medical Center to learn more about this annoying — and potentially serious — health issue.

Here's something extra annoying we learned from Dr. Dardik: Because women have shorter urethras than men, we tend to get infections more often. "[For a UTI to occur,] bacteria need to travel from outside of the body to inside the bladder," she says. "If they have a very long way to go, the likelihood of making it to the bladder is a lot smaller." Luckily, the occasional UTI is usually easily treated with antibiotics. But if it's left alone, the infection can damage your kidneys and even require hospitalization.

Here's what you need to know about this (unfortunately) common condition.
What are the most common causes of UTIs?
In general, UTIs and bladder infections are most often caused by poor wiping technique or changes in your sex habits. "UTIs seems to be more common for women who have different partners or who haven't been active for a while and have a new partner," Dr. Dardik explains, "because it facilitates the movement of bacteria to the urethra."

What makes someone more likely to get a UTI?
Of course, not everyone who suddenly starts having more sex gets a bladder infection. There are other factors that might increase your chances of being the lucky one to get a UTI. Dr. Dardik says those factors include "not emptying your bladder frequently enough, as well as things like kidney stones, which can harbor bacteria inside the urinary tract." Having diabetes that isn't well controlled also makes infections more likely because of elevated sugar levels.

What can you do to reduce your chances of getting a UTI?
Although there's no surefire way to 100% avoid a UTI, you can certainly make them less likely by taking some common sense steps. Definitely try to empty your bladder regularly and drink plenty of water to make that happen. Make sure you wipe in the correct direction after going to the bathroom (that would be front-to-back). And try to pee after having sex to help flush away any bacteria.

What else could be going on?
If you're getting one or two UTIs every year, that's not necessarily a cause for concern, says Dr. Dardik. But any more than that suggests that there might be something else going on. "You have to start wondering if there are some abnormalities in the urinary tract that are causing bacteria to accumulate there," she says.

Those abnormalities might include a urethra that's not quite in the right position, reflux, or incomplete bladder emptying so that the urine sits there for long periods of time. Being immunocompromised also makes UTIs more likely, but that basically makes you more vulnerable to any infection, Dr. Dardik explains. "It very much depends on the person and their age at that point," she says. So if you're concerned about your UTIs, your own doctor is the best place to turn.
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