Urinary tract infections are incredibly common, and many people will have at least one UTI at some point in their life. When a friend asked me why some people get UTIs more frequently than others and I was unable to answer, I realized I didn’t know as much about these pesky infections as I thought. 

How do urinary tract infections work?

Urinary tract infections affect your urinary system, AKA your urethra and bladder. The urethra is the little opening where your pee comes out, and internally, it’s a tube that carries pee from your bladder. There are two types of UTIs: cystitis (infection in the bladder) and urethritis (infection of the urethra). The symptoms and treatment for both types are the same, so if you get a UTI, you probably won’t know the difference, and that’s okay. Both types are treated the same.

Although UTIs are incredibly common and fairly easy to treat, the infection can spread to your kidneys if left untreated. It’s important to know the symptoms and treat your UTI right away so the infection won’t spread. 

What are the common symptoms of UTIs?

The most common symptom of a UTI is feeling like you constantly need to pee, even if you just went. The infection can also cause cramping and pain in your lower abdomen, pain when you pee, cloudy urine, blood in your urine (which is more common in younger patients), smelly urine, or feeling tired, shaky, or weak (which is more common in older patients). If you have a UTI, you might not have all of these symptoms, but these are the most common ones to look out for.

Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria getting into your urethra or bladder. This bacteria can come from sexual fluids, fecal matter, or bacteria from the anus. People with vulvas get UTIs 30 times more often than someone with a penis because the placement of their urethra opening is in close proximity to the anus. And within that group of people with vulvas, unfortunately, some people get UTIs more frequently due to the placement of their urethra opening. Some people can get as many as two infections in six months or three in a year. If you are one of those people, consult your doctor about options for continual treatment and prevention methods.

How can you prevent UTIs?

To prevent UTIs, you should always pee after having sex or masturbating to flush out any bodily fluids that may have gotten near or in your urethra. If you are putting anything in your anus during sex, either put a new condom on it or thoroughly wash it before penetration of the vagina occurs. Keep that bacteria out of there! If you use spermicide or a diaphragm for birth control and get frequent UTIs, talk to your doctor because that might be the culprit.

You should also wipe front to back when going to the bathroom to avoid bringing any bacteria from the anus forward. Avoid holding your pee for too long, and drink plenty of water to continually flush out your body throughout the day. Change out of wet or damp swimsuits and workout clothes ASAP to prevent infection. Additionally, wash your private parts when you shower to keep things clean. And just wash with water—douching or using feminine hygiene products can cause UTIs.

If you think you have a UTI your doctor will test your urine to see if you do. If you have one, you’ll be prescribed antibiotics and should feel better within a few days. Make sure you take your antibiotics until they are gone even if you feel better immediately to make sure the infection is completely gone. If you get UTIs frequently, some people say drinking unsweetened cranberry juice or taking cranberry pills can help. This is because cranberries may help keep bacteria from attaching to the walls of your urinary tract, which would lead to infection.

Although UTIs are painful and inconvenient, they are incredibly common and treatable. If you get a UTI you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed. Do make sure you go to the doctor to treat it right away so it doesn’t develop into a more serious infection. Follow the tips mentioned above to help prevent them and you should be good to go!

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