Chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs) are painful and can lead to dangerous and even life-threatening complications if not treated. UTIs happen when bacteria gets into the urinary tract. Typically, they’re treated with antibiotics and go away.
It’s considered normal to have a urinary tract infection at least once in your lifetime, and we see a lot of them here at Katy ER. Women suffer from them more than men. In fact, it’s estimated that almost half of all women will have a urinary tract infection in their lifetimes and at least one in four will get a repeat infection.
When an infection doesn’t get better even with the right treatment, or it keeps coming back, you have a chronic UTI, which may be difficult to treat.
What is the urinary tract?
Your urinary tract is a drainage system that removes urine from the body. It is made up of a pathway of tubes and organs that must work together. The urinary tract includes:
Kidneys: filter the blood and create urine
Ureters: tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder
Bladder: collects and stores urine
Urethra: tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body
What are the causes of chronic UTIs?
Chronic UTIs are most common in the bladder and urethra. E. coli is a bacteria that commonly cause infections in both of these parts of the urinary tract. This bacteria naturally live in your intestines and doesn’t usually cause any problems.
If E. coli finds its way from the intestines to the urinary tract, it can cause an infection. This happens when small or even invisible bits of feces get into the urinary tract during sex, improper wiping after using the bathroom, or toilet water backsplash.
Are you at risk for chronic UTIs?
Certain factors put you at a higher risk of developing chronic UTIs. These factors include:
Men are usually prone to UTIs. But, if you have an enlarged prostate, it can keep the bladder from emptying completely when you urinate. This leaves urine in the bladder, allowing bacteria to grow.
If you’re a woman, your anatomy puts you at a higher risk of developing chronic UTIs. Because your urethra and rectum are close together, bacteria can easily move forward and enter the urinary tract. A woman’s urethra is shorter, which gives bacteria a shorter distance to travel to get to the bladder and cause an infection.
Some lifestyle choices can put you at a higher risk of having chronic UTIs. These include:
Using a diaphragm during sex
Using vaginal douches
Using spermicides for birth control
Taking some oral antibiotics
Ways to prevent chronic UTIs
Let’s talk prevention. Luckily, there are few things you can do to decrease your risk of having another UTI in the future. Here are a few lifestyle changes that can lower your risk:
Be sure to wear cotton underwear if you suffer from chronic UTIs. Tight-fitting underwear made of non-breathing materials tends to create more moisture, which can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria. You should also avoid tight-fitting pants for the same reason.
Take showers and avoid long baths. Sitting in a tub for a long time can allow bacteria from your skin to travel into the urinary tract. Avoid bubble baths. Wash front to back when cleaning your genital area.
When you use the bathroom, be sure to always wipe front to back. Don’t reach from behind to wipe because germs from your rectum can end up on your hand or toilet tissue. If you wipe more than once, get new tissue each time.
During your periods, try to use tampons only. This can decrease the risk of bacterial growth that’s common when you use pads. Avoid using diaphragms and spermicides as birth control methods.
Urinate frequently, at least once every 4 hours when you’re awake. Don’t “hold it” if you feel that you need to go, and always urinate after sex.
Drinking enough water each day is a healthy habit in general. But when you have chronic UTIs, drinking plenty of water keeps bacteria out of your system.
Cranberry juice can decrease bacteria’s ability to stick to the wall of the bladder, so drinking one glass a day can be helpful. Avoid drinks that cause irritation to the bladder, like coffee, citrus drinks, soda, and alcohol.
If you’re in the Houston area and are struggling with a chronic UTI, seek medical attention quickly. The doctors at Katy ER are here to care for you any time of the day or night to help stop a UTI in its tracks.