This is why women get UTIs up to 30 times more often than men

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When it comes to UTIs, women are especially vulnerable to these common infections. (Getty Images)

If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you know how uncomfortable it can be, with frequent trips to the bathroom, “having the intense urge to go and go now” – as Dr. Barbara Bawer, a family physician at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, puts it — and the burning sensation when you try to pee, as well as lower abdominal pain.

Urinary tract infections, also called cystitis, are a common problem. They account for almost 25% of all infections, and up to 60% of women develop one during their lifetime. Women are particularly vulnerable to these infections. In fact, they get UTIs up to 30 times more often than men.

Why is this the case? Here, the experts break it down.

First of all, what causes UTIs?

UTIs are caused by bacteria, such as E.coli, in stool that enters the vaginal opening, travels to the urethra, then travels up the urethra and into the bladder, triggering an infection, Bawer tells Yahoo Life.

So how do bacteria actually achieve this? Several different ways, experts say. The most common cause is sexual activity, which can push bacteria near the urethra. Dr. Rotimi Nettey, an assistant professor of urology at Baylor College of Medicine, told Yahoo Life that sex also causes microtrauma to vaginal tissues and makes women more susceptible to infection, just like “when you have a cut , you are more susceptible to an infection.

In older women, menopause is a factor. “Loss of estrogen reduces the population of good bacteria” — known as lactobacilli — “which defend the bladder against infection,” says Nettey. “The walls of the bladder and vagina also become thinner” – and therefore more vulnerable to infection – “due to the loss of estrogen”.

Other factors that increase the risk of UTIs include use of spermicides, history of recurrent UTIs, presence of a catheter, structural abnormalities of the urethra or genital area since birth or due to surgeries, diabetes, pregnancy and poor hygiene, such as not wiping properly back and forth, according to Bawer. However, as Nettey points out, even if you’re vigilant about preventing UTIs by peeing after sex to remove bacteria, wiping back and forth, and washing the area, the bacteria is hard to beat. . “No matter what you do, it never gets clean,” says Nettey – meaning the bacteria is never completely eliminated – “so it’s very easy for bacteria to travel to the urethral region”, causing an infection.

Why are urinary tract infections much more common in women than in men?

The reason women get far more UTIs than men has a lot to do with anatomy. In women, “the urethra is located a shorter distance from the anus than in men, so bacteria can enter the urethra much more easily,” says Bawer. “The length of the urethra itself is also shorter in women than in men, leading to more UTIs.”

As Nettey points out, the length of a woman’s urethra is 3 centimeters, while a man’s is about 14 centimeters, “so there is a significant difference” and “bacteria have a shorter distance. to go through to enter the bladder” in women.

What happens if a UTI is left untreated?

In a nutshell, the infection can get worse. If a UTI is left untreated, “bacteria can travel to the bladder via the ureters and lead to a more serious infection called pyelonephritis,” says Bawer. “Individuals typically develop fever, chills, severe fatigue, malaise, pain in the side of the abdomen and back.”

In even more severe cases, Bawer says, the bacteria can enter your bloodstream and lead to sepsis, organ dysfunction, shock, kidney failure and, in rarer cases, death if all of these are not met. not treated.

How are urinary tract infections treated?

UTIs are usually treated with antibiotics, but not just any antibiotic. Typically, when you see your health care provider for a UTI, they test your urine (urinalysis), but Nettey explains that the “real test is a urine culture,” where the sample is smeared on a Petri dish to see what type of bacteria is there and which antibiotic is best suited to treat it. “Unfortunately, it can take 48 hours, but it is important to know what bacteria it is, especially if it is a recurrent bacteria. Sometimes we get treatment and it doesn’t help. You want the antibiotic to be suitable.

Bawer agrees, saying, “Which one we choose depends on a few factors like the severity of the infection, your specific allergies, resistance rates in the area where you live to certain antibiotics.”

While finding the right antibiotic is key, Nettey adds that it’s also “important to complete treatment” so bacteria don’t continue to multiply, which can cause the UTI to return.

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