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Why do women get frequent urinary tract infections?

Some women get frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs) because the urethra, which is the tube that we urinate out of, is significantly shorter in women compared to men. This means that the distance the bacteria travel is much shorter. The other reason women get frequent urinary tract infections is simply from a location standpoint. The female's urethra is very close to the vagina and the rectum, which aren’t very sterile areas, so there's a greater chance to contaminate the urethra. From a hygiene standpoint, if a female wipes from back to front and not front to back, they're going to be more prone to urinary tract infections. Women who wear pads to guard against a leaky bladder are at an added risk of infection if the pad is even just a little wet. Women may also experience a UTI from sexual intercourse or if they become overweight or obese.

Sexual activity is associated with recurrent urinary tract infection in young women. Those who have bacteria that colonize the vagina are more likely to have infections. Women who use a diaphragm and/or condoms coated with spermicide are also at increased risk. Those with a family history of UTI or who have their first infection before the age of 15 are more likely to suffer from recurrent infections.

Post-menopausal women with bladder emptying problems are also at increased risk. As we age the tissues of the urinary tract thin which also can increase the chance for infection.

Dr. Kevin W. Windom, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Women are more apt to get urinary tract infections because their urethra is much shorter than the male urethra. The way that an infection gets into the bladder is it ascends through the urethra (which is directly above the vagina) and into the bladder. It is rare that infections start in the kidneys and travel down the ureters to the bladder. Most urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria that is in stool. To decrease your likelihood of a urinary tract infection, wipe from front to back. In addition, you should completely empty your bladder after intercourse.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.