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Women experience more urinary tract infections (UTIs) than men for many reasons, and self-catheterization can increase the risk. Learn about ways that women can avoid UTIs.
If you’re a woman, it’s probably not a surprise to you that urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more common in females than males. Several factors contribute to this, including the layout of the female anatomy, sexual activity, feminine hygiene product usage, and menopause. And if you use a catheter, that increases your risk of a UTI as well.
If an infection is limited to the bladder, it can be painful and annoying. But serious health problems can result if a UTI spreads to the kidneys. Below is a discussion of the risk factors, along with some practical and proactive actions you can take to avoid UTIs.
The female anatomy and UTIs
One reason women get more UTIs than men is because of the design of their “plumbing” – particularly the location of their urinary tract and the length of their urethra. A woman’s urethra is much shorter than a man’s and is located close to the vagina and anus, making it more likely for bacteria to enter the urethra and cause an infection. To prevent UTIs, be sure to wipe from front to back after urinating and after a bowel movement. This can help keep bacteria from spreading from the anus to the vagina and urethra.
Other factors that contribute to UTIs in women
In addition to anatomy layout, female-specific UTI risks generally fall under three categories: sexual activity, feminine hygiene product usage, and menopause.
Sexual activity – Many women get UTIs after vaginal intercourse. That’s because the motion of penetration can push bacteria from the anus or vagina into the urethra. Below are a few tips to help you prevent this from happening:
Feminine hygiene product usage – If you’re menstruating, pads and tampons are a place where bacteria can grow very easily. Be sure to change your tampon at least every four hours, depending on your flow, and avoid wearing them overnight. Pads also ideally should be changed every 4 to 6 hours.
Menopause – If you’ve gone through menopause, many things can increase your likelihood of getting a UTI. Your bladder may contract less forcefully and be more difficult to empty completely, which can allow bacteria to propagate. In addition, because your estrogen production drops, your vaginal pH levels change. This can disturb the balance of bacteria and yeast in your vagina, increasing the chance of infection. Finally, your vaginal walls may become thinner. This can result in small tears near the urethra — which can be entry points for bacteria. Below are some tips that may help you avoid UTIs if you are a post-menopausal woman:
Catheter usage and UTIs
Using a catheter introduces another layer of UTI risk. When it comes to hygiene practices and insertion techniques, be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations. Below are some general guidelines to help female catheter users avoid UTIs:
If you do experience the symptoms of a UTI or if you have recurrent infections, make a doctor’s appointment for treatment. Also, ask your healthcare team for additional preventative measures specific to you.
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