When you feel the urgency, pressure, and burning sensation you know a urinary tract infection (UTI) has likely settled in. But what are UTI causes and can you prevent them even if you have urinary incontinence? We’ve outlined 8 common causes of urinary tract infections with a special emphasis on how chronic incontinence leads to UTIs. More importantly, you’ll learn how to keep this pesky problem at bay!
What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?
You develop a UTI when tiny microbes (usually a bacteria) invade your body through the urethra and travel to your bladder where they multiply and breed infection. Most of the time, the infection remains only in the bladder and is treated before spreading further. However, if the infection is left untreated, it typically spreads to the kidneys. Both types of urinary tract infections are easily treated with common antibiotics.
8 UTI Causes You Should Know About
1. Sexual Activity
During any type of sexual activity, bacteria easily spreads from person to person and from place to place. It doesn’t help that your reproductive anatomy and excretory system are close neighbors. Anyone who is sexually active increases their chances of contracting a UTI. Need I say more?
2. Certain Types of Birth Control
Basically, anything you insert into your vagina has the potential to cause a urinary tract infection, because it contributes to bacterial growth. This includes diaphragms, unlubricated condoms (increased friction), and spermicide. Bacteria breed quickly when provided with heat and humidity. Eventually, the bacteria travel from the vagina to the urethra – and straight to your bladder to grow a painful infection!
Menopause is one of the most common and unknown UTI causes. As you go through menopause, dropping estrogen levels affect both your urinary tract and your vagina. Your urinary tract becomes less acidic, which makes it easier for bacteria to grow. Additionally, your urethra and bladder tissues become both thinner and drier, making them more prone to irritation and infection. Many women see an increase in UTIs during menopause.
4. Reduced Mobility
If you’ve recently had surgery or have been confined to bedrest for another reason, you’re at greater risk for developing a urinary tract infection. It’s one of the UTI causes few people think about. When you’re in an upright position, gravity encourages the flow of urine through your body. It helps to drain the urine from your kidneys and into your bladder. Being upright also helps you recognize that your bladder is full. But when you’re laid back, you don’t have the help of gravity, and your organs shift, reducing pressure on your bladder. Realizing when it’s time to go becomes more difficult. So the urine sits and stagnates inside your bladder, which leads to infection.
Over time, increased blood glucose levels can lead to nerve damage that affects your bladder. When this happens, you might not know that your bladder needs to be emptied, because your brain isn’t getting the message that it’s time to find a bathroom. The nerve sending messages from your bladder to your brain has been damaged. This means urine sits in your bladder longer than it should, and when it sits in your bladder too long, infection can develop.
6. Enlarged Prostate
One of the UTI causes common for men is an enlarged prostate that blocks the flow of urine. Typically, it compresses the urethra, making it difficult to pass urine, even when you feel urgency. Since you’re not adequately emptying your bladder, the urine is hanging out there longer, increases your chances of developing a UTI. For information about incontinence and prostate surgery, check out our article, Everything You Need to Know About Incontinence After Prostate Surgery.
7. Constipation or Diarrhea
It’s extremely easy for bacteria to stray from the rectum to the vagina, especially when you are experiencing constipation or loose bowels. Even if you’re hygienic, it’s nearly impossible to completely contain bacteria while experiencing bowl trouble.
- Certain types of incontinence, like overflow incontinence, produce more frequent UTIs. This is because, as with other conditions like an enlarged prostate or diabetic nerve damage, urine builds up in the bladder and sits for longer than it should, growing bacteria. This increases your chances of developing an infection. With overflow incontinence, the bladder literally overflows from becoming too full. If you have this type of incontinence, you might battle with frequent bladder infections.
- Additionally, you might be tempted to limit your fluids because of your incontinence. After all, who wants to add fuel to the problem? However, this can cause more difficulty, because while the reduction in fluids means you reduce the risk of bladder leaks, it also increases your risk of a UTI. If you restrict fluids to the point of dehydration, your urine (filled with bacteria, toxins, and waste) becomes more concentrated, making you highly vulnerable to infection. Dehydration is one of UTI causes that is more common than you think.
- Also, managing incontinence products can prove tricky, especially if your mobility is limited, or if you’re trying to juggle work, family, and your condition. Sometimes, you just don’t change your incontinence pads or underwear as often as you should. Depending on how susceptible your body is to infection, it might not to take much to trigger a UTI. Remember, bacteria multiply rapidly in warm, moist conditions. This means bacteria will easily grow and travel from your soiled incontinence products to your urethra and bladder. You’ll want to keep the area as clean and dry as possible.
10 Tips for Preventing Urinary Tract Infections (Even with Incontinence)
1. Drink six to eight glasses of water daily.
This helps you stay hydrated and keeps your urine sufficiently diluted, discouraging bacteria growth.
2. Don’t hold urine for long periods of time.
Unless your urologist instructs you otherwise, it’s best to go when you need to go. The sooner you empty your bladder of waste, the lower your risk for developing a UTI.
3. Wash carefully after sexual activity.
Sexual activity is one of the most common UTI causes. Be sure to thoroughly wash and rinse affected areas to prevent the spread of bacteria.
4. Adjust your birth control method.
If you’re prone to developing bladder infections, then it’s best to avoid birth control methods that involve inserting devices or the use of spermicide. Instead, opt for oral contraceptives or lubricated condoms. Talk to your gynecologist for additional options.
5. Periodically sit up or stand if you’re on bedrest.
Talk to your doctor about how often you can change position without compromising your health. Upright positions will help your urinary tract drain waste from the kidneys, and they also make it easier to recognize when your bladder is full.
6. Manage underlying conditions like diabetes, overflow incontinence, or an enlarged prostate.
Be sure to monitor your blood glucose levels regularly. If necessary, talk to your doctor about how to better manage your condition and prevent diabetic nerve damage. Certain types of nerve damage can keep you from emptying your bladder. It’s one of the UTI causes that is easily missed. Additionally, if you suspect an enlarged prostate has been affecting your bladder or if you think you might have overflow incontinence, talk to your doctor about ways to address the problem.
7. Make changing your incontinence products a priority.
Even though managing incontinence can be challenging, consider it a matter of your health. Do your best to have systems in place that allow you to change soil products as immediately as possible. Because it’s not always feasible, consider using premium incontinence underwear and pads that make changes easier while locking away moisture more effectively until then.
8. Ask your doctor about topical or vaginal estrogen.
If you’re in perimenopause or are post menopause, your doctor might prescribe topical or vaginal estrogen to help prevent recurrent UTIs. Estrogen can help reverse the negative effects of menopause, providing increased lubrication to the vagina, preventing the thinning of vaginal and urethral tissues, and restoring PH balance.
9. Try probiotic vaginal suppositories.
Sometimes, a decrease in good bacteria is one of the underlying UTI causes. Vaginal probiotics like lactobacillus, help restore the balance of good and bad bacteria to prevent harmful overgrowth that leads to recurrent infections.
10. Treat causes of constipation or diarrhea.
While the issue could be as simple as increasing fiber and water intake, you might also need to take additional steps to stay regular. Consider food intolerances like wheat (gluten), dairy, or soy. If your bowel issue is chronic, talk to your doctor to determine if you have some form of IBS (IBD) or other condition.