woman with bladder pain

—Antonio S., Suffolk University, Massachusetts

Some urinary tract infections (UTIs) are preventable. And while they tend to be regarded as a women’s problem—or, more accurately, as a problem for anyone born with a vagina—in fact, anyone can get a UTI. The anatomy of the vagina does make it much more susceptible to infection than the penis, however.

What causes UTIs?

Most urinary tract infections are caused by E. coli, a bacterium found in the gut, but other bacteria can also cause these infections. The rectum is very near the vagina, where the urethra is located. If non-sterile bacteria from the rectum manage to ascend the urethra, they can infect the bladder, causing a UTI. Anyone born with a vagina has a short urethra, so it’s not that long of a trip for bacteria to get into the bladder.

How do I know if I have a UTI?

Symptoms can include:

  • Painful urination
  • Frequent urination and/or an urge to urinate even when your bladder is empty
  • Low-grade fever
  • Bloody or cloudy urine

A UTI is a “simple” bladder infection called cystitis. Sometimes, the bacteria can travel all the way up to the kidneys and infect them too, causing pyelonephritis. Both infections are fairly readily diagnosed and treated, but since a UTI can lead to a kidney infection, you’ll need to treat it right away. For that matter, a UTI may feel so uncomfortable that you’ll want to treat it right away.

How to prevent it?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have some general guidelines that can lower your risk of a UTI:

  • Empty your bladder before and after sexual activity
  • Stay hydrated and urinate regularly
  • Take a shower instead of a bath
  • Avoid douching or using any sprays/powders in the genital area

I’ve dealt with this complaint with many patients over the years and we almost always can make things better. If you frequently get UTI symptoms, you should definitely speak with a health care provider who is experienced at dealing with them. Not all of your episodes of discomfort may be due to UTIs, but it’s worth talking the situation through and considering all the possibilities.

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